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Judge delays ruling to see if charges can be filed in alleged trial recording

| Friday, April 10, 2009

KITTANNING -- District Judge James Owen delayed a ruling in the preliminary hearing Thursday of a woman accused of digitally recording her trial in Armstrong County Court of Common Pleas last November.

Owen told the defendant and her attorney he wanted to take more time to review the testimony and research case law before deciding if the charges should be held for court.

Counsel agreed to the delay in the proceedings. Owen's decision is expected to be early next week.

Tami Ann Lytle, 35, whose last known residence is in Lower Burrell, is accused of tape recording her own trial in Armstrong County Court of Common Pleas while she was facing multiple charges of furnishing alcohol to minors, corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children and single charges each of intimidating a witness, obstruction of justice and unsworn falsification to authorities.

The charges stemmed from parties that occurred in the months following the return of Lytle's eight children from foster care in June 2007, according to testimony. The children, ranging in age from 6 to 18, had been removed from their home after investigators found the home to be unlivable in Feb. 2007.

Lytle was convicted by a jury of those charges, She is currently serving two to four years in state prison which will be followed by five years probation for providing alcohol to minors four times during the summer of 2007 at her Gilpin home and threatening her then-17-year-old daughter to recant statements made to authorities incriminating her.

The criminal complaint filed by state police charges that Lytle allegedly recorded court proceedings on Nov. 12 and 13 on the first and second days of her three-day trial.

According to the affidavit, an electronic device, later determined to be a tape recorder, was kept on the defense table in front of Lytle during the trial and she was seen handling it on several occasions.

Cindy Calarie, the assistant Armstrong County District Attorney who prosecuted Lytle in her corruption of minors trial, testified Thursday that she thought Lytle had been using a cell phone in the courtroom.

When it was noticed that the device may be a small digital tape recorder, steps were taken to remove it, Calarie said. Judge James Panchik, who was presiding over the trial, ordered the device be removed from the courtroom.

Panchik told police that he thought the device was a cell phone and that Lytle was sending text messages, until he saw the defendant pick up the device and point it at one of Lytle's daughters who was testifying at the time.

The device was taken to the court administrator's office.

Robin Davis, who works in the District Attorney's office, testified at the hearing that she was instructed to retrieve and transport the device to the District Attorney's office where it was confirmed by the audio heard that it had been used to record the court proceedings.

Davis said state police were then called and charges filed.

Lytle's attorney at the Thursday hearing, Alexander Lindsay Jr., of Butler, entered a not guilty plea on Lytle's behalf.

"I'm mystified by this case," Lindsay said. "There is no crime here."

Lindsay cited case law, telling the court that the issue in the statute relates to an anticipation that oral communications would not be intercepted, and consequently recorded -- being recorded without prior knowledge.

"The law is designed to protect the expectation of privacy," Lindsay said. "Not whether it is subject to being intercepted."

Lindsay used as examples news reporters and court reporters in an open court room recording the proceedings, as was Lytle, he said.

He asked Owen to dismiss the charges.

State police Corporal Daniel Herr argued that there is a difference between writing down what was heard as opposed to an actual recording of the trial.

"The parties were unaware that there was a recording," Herr said.

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