Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

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Investigative Grand Juries and the Right to Reputation

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | December 9, 2018

No. 1,592

The Fortieth Investigative Grand Jury stirred a tsunami of public outrage, but has not resulted in a single prosecution.  Among the many consequences flowing from this momentous historic event, one unforeseen by almost everyone and not yet fully appreciated, has begun to unfold on December 3, 2018.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court made permanent its temporary redaction of the names of eleven priests accused of child molestation in the report.  The Supreme Court stated that the statute that created the investigative grand jury, and authorized the publication of their findings, did not contain adequate due process procedures to protect the constitutionally guaranteed right to reputation.

This “right to reputation” is not specifically mentioned in the United States Constitution, but is set forth in our State Constitution.

Article I, Section 1 states:

“All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property and reputation, and of pursuing their own happiness.”

Article I, Section 11 address the remedy for violation of the right to reputation:

“All courts shall be open; and every man for an injury done him in his lands, goods, person or reputation shall have remedy by due course of law, and right and justice administered without sale, denial or delay. Suits may be brought against the Commonwealth in such manner, in such courts.” [Emphasis supplied]

The opinion in this case, written by Justice Todd, recognizes that the Grand Jury Report addresses the rights of victims and the need of the public to know. But, in the context of an investigative grand jury, the accused person’s constitutional right to reputation trumps them all.

The Supreme Court held that the procedure established by the Investigative Grand Jury statute cannot be modified by judicial fiat to include due process procedures. The changes would be so significant as to completely overhaul the framework set for in the state.  This requires that the Supreme Court must order permanent redaction of names of the accused who, under the procedures employed in the investigation,  were not given due process.

This constitutional right should be of particular importance to lawyers.  Reputation is about trustworthiness.  If you destroy a lawyer’s reputation, you destroy a career.Once lost, it is lost forever.

But lawyers are not alone in the need to protect their professional reputations.  It is not terribly hard to imagine future Investigative Grand Juries being convened to look into accusations of child molestation by teachers, hospital employees and members of other organizations dedicated to helping children. If that time comes, others will be able to protect their name by petitioning for redaction.




CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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