Lawyers for Mount Airy Casino Resort owner Louis DeNaples, in a hunt for the source of what they say were illegal leaks from a grand jury, are demanding that 15 reporters turn over not only their handwritten notes but also their personal cell phones and home phone bills.
Morning Call reporters Matt Birkbeck and Christina Gostomski received subpoenas Wednesday issued by attorneys for DeNaples and the Rev. Joseph F. Sica, a priest who advised DeNaples.
In addition, reporters from The Associated Press, the Citizens' Voice of Wilkes-Barre, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News received subpoenas. James Roxbury, owner of an independent video news company, Roxbury News, also was subpoenaed.
The subpoenas order the reporters to appear before Dauphin County Judge Todd A. Hoover on June 30 and demand that they produce notes, e-mail, work phone records and all other documents relating to their stories about the grand jury.
Attached to The Morning Call reporters' subpoenas were copies of eight stories or truncated versions of stories that appeared on The Morning Call's Web site, themorningcall.com, about or referring to the grand jury investigating DeNaples. The investigation resulted in perjury charges against the Scranton area businessman and the suspension of his gaming license.
A Philadelphia attorney representing The Morning Call and The Associated Press said laws protect reporters from being compelled to divulge confidential information.
''We are reviewing the subpoenas and will rely on the protections afforded by state and federal law,'' said Gayle C. Sproul of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz.
Teri Henning, general counsel for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, said the state's Shield Law has provided absolute protection for newspaper reporters in cases where confidentiality is involved.
She cited a Lackawanna County case in which a Scranton Times reporter was ordered to reveal confidential information from a story about another grand jury investigation. The county court in 2005 ruled against the newspaper, but that decision was overturned by the state Superior Court last year. An appeal to the state Supreme Court has not been decided.
''This is an attempt to inhibit the legitimate gathering of information by the press about issues of urgent interest to the citizens of Pennsylvania,'' said Ardith Hilliard, Morning Call editor and vice president. ''We will vigorously defend our rights to fulfill this duty to the public. I am confident those rights will be upheld.''
The Associated Press and the newspapers had no further comment about the subpoenas.
''I don't know what they think I could offer them,'' Roxbury said. ''The information is readily available.''
Roxbury said his Harrisburg company hires freelance video teams to record government news and events, including hearings related to DeNaples' slots application, and posts them online on YouTube. He said he has ''one or two'' videos related to the grand jury testimony.
Ted Chylack, an attorney with Sprague & Sprague, which filed the subpoenas, would only say the subpoenas were related to a May 2 ruling by the state Supreme Court.
In that order, the court ruled Hoover should hold a hearing into alleged violations of the secrecy of the grand jury's investigation. The judge then has to determine if a special prosecutor should be appointed.
Dauphin County Assistant District Attorney Fran Chardo said the hearing has not been scheduled.
Grand jury proceedings are secret and state law bars prosecutors, court officials or jurors from discussing a grand jury investigation. Witnesses are not barred from discussing their testimony outside the courtroom, however.
DeNaples and Sica were charged with perjury this year after allegedly lying under oath to state gaming regulators.
DeNaples' spokesman Kevin Feeley earlier said news stories about the grand jury proceedings in DeNaples' and Sica's cases amounted to ''prosecution by headline.''
Performing effectively as government watchdogs means that reporters occasionally must rely on confidential sources to report on sensitive matters, said Henning, the newspaper association attorney.
''Certain sources may cease to be sources if they have a real concern about being disclosed,'' Henning said. ''There are also concerns with making the media, which serve a role very distinct from government, an arm of the government.''
After the suspension of DeNaples' gaming license, the state Gaming Control Board appointed former Shippensburg University President Anthony F. Ceddia to take charge of the casino in Monroe County until the criminal case is resolved.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun