True stories from the case files of A Town Gone Bad
PA Supreme Court rules judge can preside on case to suppress book about himself
Pete Shellem's last save
Posted March 8, 2011 -- The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that a judge who is the subject of a book can preside on a case seeking to punish and gag the author of the book.
The state Supreme Court ruling stems from hearings in April, 2009, in which York County Judge Richard Renn refused to recuse himself and stripped author Bill Keisling of all First Amendment rights and Shield Law Protections, and ordered Keisling to reveal his sources for the book The Midnight Ride of Jonathan Luna.
In the Luna book, Keisling writes that he was told by a court expert of an apparent influence peddling scheme involving Judge Richard Renn in a case involving a victimized child. Renn is also the subject of Keisling's forthcoming book, A Town Gone Bad: The Secret and Troubled Life of Richard Renn.
In the Luna book, Keisling describes how citizens in Pennsylvania are unable to attain long-sought investigations of Renn and others, including Pennsylvania turnpike security contractor Russell Wantz. The book recounts how the York, PA police commissioner and another public official finally arranged an out-of-town meeting with a federal investigator to seek an investigation of Wantz and others for alleged involvement in a courthouse prostitution ring. Wantz is a paid security contractor for York County, and, at times, its courthouse, where the prostitution ring was rooted.
Wantz went to federal court in 2007 to have the Luna book banned, and claims in state court that he was defamed.
Wantz was arrested by police in Dauphin County in 2007 for soliciting a Craigslist prostitute. Wantz is currently running for public office in York County.
At a hearing on April 19, 2011, to enforce Judge Renn's order, York County Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh gave Keisling until April 28 to answer all interrogatories in Wantz's suit and so reveal all his sources. A hearing was set for Thursday, May 5, 2011, to consider sanctions against Keisling for appealing his First Amendment and Shield Law rights in the appellate courts. Renn and Wantz maintain that Keisling, author of more than a dozen books, is not a writer.
In court papers filed on April 28, Keisling revealed that one of his original sources for the Wantz story in the Luna book was late Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter Pete Shellem.
In an email sent to Keisling in June 2009, Shellem reiterated that he had in his possession audio and video tapes made by a deceased York man named Richard Parks linking security contractor Wantz to a prostitution ring.
"I was initially looking into the death of a massage parlor owner named Larry Keeney who supposedly committed suicide after being busted on a prostitution charge," Shellem wrote Keisling. "He was only looking at a few months in jail and had $1.4 million in the bank. I had illegally recorded tapes Parks made of the girls talking about Wantz all but running the business (can't remember the name) and the whole thing was rigged with video cameras to blackmail the patrons."
Shellem broke the 1997 news stories involving Parks and former York state senator Dan Delp, who was caught with a 19-year-old prostitute in late 1996.
Reporter Shellem told Keisling he would look for the tapes and provide them to the author for Keisling's ongoing research and the court cases. Before copies of the tapes could be given to Keisling, Shellem apparently committed suicide in October 2009.
"Pete Shellem was a great guy and a great writer with a real sense of justice who helped many victims of our justice system," Keisling notes. "The tragedy of Pete Shellem's death only accentuates the mystery surrounding the Wantz case, where now four or five witnesses have died in extremely unusual circumstances."
"That Judge Richard Renn is sitting on this case in an attempt to suppress a book about himself and to gag the author is appalling and unacceptable in the United States of America," Keisling said. "I support the fundamental right of all Americans to right and publish freely, without interference and suppression by those in government that he or she writes about."
Keisling has 90 days to appeal the state high court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, York County President Judge Linebaugh made it clear that Judge Renn's ruling to punish Keisling for writing about Judge Renn stands, and that Keisling is subject to court sanctions for challenging Renn's ruling.
Wantz, who holds multi-million dollar state security contracts with the Corbett and Rendell administrations, has asked the court for $10,000 from Keisling to cover Wantz's legal fees for Keisling's rejected First Amendment appeal.
Wantz's attorney has asked the court to also bar Keisling from mentioning to the jury at trial that Wantz was arrested for paid sex acts.