CHARLEROI – A man is in custody after being arrested Wednesday by Charleroi Regional police in an attempted homicide case that has been sealed by a Washington County judge.
Common Pleas Judge John DiSalle sealed all records in the case against John Sadvary, 39, even the docket that would include the date of the suspect’s preliminary hearing and the name of his attorney, court officials said Thursday.
“Everything (prosecutors) brought up, the judge signed, had some form of hearing and then back to the DA’s office,” said one member of the judge’s staff.
Courts can seal the criminal complaint and its supporting documents for as long as 30 days, but judges have to include “good cause” for sealing these cases in their orders, said Melissa Melewsky, an attorney with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.
“They can’t seal cases just because they want to,” Melewsky said Thursday.
She said the docket, itself, is not considered a supporting document in such cases and that sealing it is unconstitutional.
Deputy District Attorney Jason Walsh declined to discuss details of Sadvary’s case but acknowledged obtaining the seal.
“I cannot produce an order, but there is an order,” Walsh said.
He said the rules of criminal procedure don’t allow courts to do so without the government showing a good reason.
Melewsky said court orders must be docketed and available to the public, and that district attorneys are not custodians of court records.
She said the clerk of courts should have, at a minimum, the docket and court order authorizing a seal.
“The public can’t learn about or challenge a seal order if there’s no court docket or good cause order to review,” Melewsky said.
District Attorney Gene Vittone referred comment on the case to Dennis Paluso, the county’s first assistant district attorney.
Paluso said he was not “directly involved” in the case and unaware of what DiSalle put in the court order.
“Everything will be revealed at the hearing,” Paluso said.
A spokeswoman for the Washington County court administrator’s office said Sadvary’s preliminary hearing has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday before District Judge Larry Hopkins in the county courthouse.
She said the hearing date is public information and that she was attempting to find out why the docket is blocked from the public on the state’s online list of criminal court dockets.
A representative for the clerk of courts office was unable to say whether Sadvary’s arrest warrant was on file there.
She said that sealed filings from prosecutors can come with the sealing orders attached to the outside of them, but without the names of the parties listed on the outside of the records.
Paluso said the district attorney’s office has no control over the clerk of courts manages records. He said his office may have a copy of the sealing order, but that the original order would have been filed with there.
Sadvary also is charged with conspiracy, aggravated assault and simple assault. The district attorney’s office said Sadvary is being represented in the case by Charles Porter, who could not be reached Thursday for comment.