Impounded files and sex victims’ names

I had an argument, about as much of an argument you can have with a judge, many, many years ago with the late Joseph E. Erb, then president judge of York County Common Pleas Court. 
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I was attempting to get an affidavit filed against a local man charged with sexual child abuse. 
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At the time, those types of criminal cases were impounded and completely off limits to the public and the media. 
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My argument was that there was no real victim in this particular case. It was one of the early Pennsylvania State Police internet stings where a trooper played the role of an underage girl in a chat room. 
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As in similar investigations, after determining the internet user was soliciting sex with a minor, the trooper/girl made arrangements to meet him somewhere. 
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When the guy arrived at the designated spot, he, of course, was arrested. 
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The problem was no one who had authority over the documents had read the complaint. Just the charge. And they were under a strict mandate – based on the charge alone – to impound the file.
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Anyone who remembers Judge Erb knows I lost the argument. 
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I learned to go after the Internet sting cases before they got to the courthouse and were impounded. 
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The concern, of course, then and now, is the protection of the identity of the child victim. 
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Adult victims do not get that court protection. Their names are listed in public court documents.
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Still, historically, the local media does not print, publish or broadcast a sex crime victim’s name. 
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At the Record, we limit identification to an age and a street or a township. 
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After writing a story, again some years ago, about a man convicted of raping a woman, the rape victim called me. 
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She told me that the street where she lived — the street I had used in an attempt to give her some identity without identifying her — was a block long and had four houses. 
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All I could do was apologize. And promise to try and not make a similar mistake again. 
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About Rick Lee

Rick Lee is a veteran courthouse reporter for the York Daily Record/Sunday News. Contact him at rlee@ydr.com or call 495-1782.
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