A lawsuit against the Erie Times-News in Pennsylvania and three reporters will continue following a ruling by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
The panel upheld a lower court ruling ordering three Times-News reporters to reveal their sources in a series of stories starting in 2010 involving Unicredit America, a local debt collection company.
Unicredit in 2010 was sued for allegedly collecting money from unsuspecting consumers by pretending to hold hearings in a room decorated to look like a courtroom, Collections & Credit Risk reported in November 2010. The lawsuit stated that the company used people posing as sheriff's deputies to summon people to an office in Erie that employees called "the courtroom." The company then staged court proceedings to obtain money from them.
According to the state, the company set up a room at an Erie office that appeared to be a courtroom, complete with a raised area for a judge, attorneys tables and legal books on bookshelves. A person dressed in black would sometimes sit in the position of the judge, according to an Associated Press report. Erie District Judge Dominick DiPaolo is suing the newspaper for libel. DiPaolo claims in the lawsuit that he needs the reporters source of information to prove the reporting was libelous. DiPaolo was not involved with the fake courtroom but was involved in signing orders on more than half of Unicredit’s collection efforts. The newspaper had argued that the First Amendment and Pennsylvania's shield law protects reporters from an obligation to reveal their sources but the Pennsylvania Superior Court voted 2-1 with the lower court and DiPaolo.