Expunged records can erase court files but not news coverage

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Have a question about access, public records or other issues? Send your questions to Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, skey@hspa.com or call 317-624-4427.

The following questions were submitted by the City of Gary ADA and Title VI commission, Newton County Enterprise (Kentland), The Salem Leader and The Salem Democrat:

Request to print a ‘Declaration of Nationality’ public notice is legally meaningless

Q: I’m wondering if you can offer some input on an issue brought up before this commission. We have an individual who submitted a public notice in a newspaper, more specifically a Declaration of Nationality. The newspaper declines to publish the notice. I’d like to know if there are any laws/rules/guidelines requiring Indiana newspapers to publish such a notice. The individual wants our commission to investigate the denial as an act of discrimination.

A: I’m not aware of any legal obligation to publish a Declaration of Nationality. I do not know what, if any, legal ramifications such a notice would have. This sounds like a similar situation that newspapers have faced with a group whose members will seek to publish a notice saying they aren’t subject to taxation. The publication has no impact on those individuals’ responsibility to file a tax form.

There’s nothing that prohibits someone from publishing a notice of their nationality or for a newspaper to publish such a notice, but it’s meaningless.
As to any claim of discrimination, the First Amendment gives publishers the right to refuse to publish submitted content. I see no basis for discrimination for refusing to publish a notice that is legally meaningless.

Each paper sets its own rate for printing private party’s public notice

Q: Do you know what the private line rate for public notices is for 2020?

A: When you say private line rate, I assume you mean a rate you would charge a private party to place a public notice – for example, a petition to change one’s name, the opening of the administration of an estate, a request for a variance from a plan commission, etc. If that’s the case, there is no state set rate.

Each newspaper sets its own rate for those type of notices. Obviously, we advise papers not to take advantage of a possible monopoly situation in a county and gouge customers who are forced to use a particular newspaper. This practice would attract the ire of state legislators who could pass a law to eliminate the requirement that public notices be published in local newspapers.

Expunged records can erase court files but not news coverage

Q: This is the first time I have been asked to remove someone’s name from an article already published because public records involving that court case have been expunged. Any advice you can offer?

A: This question pops up more and more. While expungement allows a person to basically erase the court files of certain criminal cases, it does not change what happened. Newspapers are not going back and altering the news that was reported in past issues based on the fact someone expunges a criminal case.

If the coverage didn’t note a final outcome, I’ve seen newspapers add a note in their archives to let readers know whether the individual arrested or charged either had the charges dropped, plead down to lesser charges, was acquitted or convicted, but those newspapers aren’t erasing any part of the original coverage.

While you can appreciate that the individual would prefer this article doesn’t surface in a Google search, the newspaper’s policy most likely will be to not continually go back and delete stories out of past newspapers because someone has expunged the court records.

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