By GREG WAPLES ([email protected])
Crawford County District Attorney Francis Shultz visited Allegheny College last week to deliver a talk to aspiring news writers. Professor Penni Schaefer’s News Writing class listened as the District Attorney explained the responsibilities of his office, his interactions with the media and how he believes journalists should conduct themselves when covering crimes and legal proceedings.
Shultz’s lecture ranged from a general description of his job to fielding controversial questions surrounding his role as the chief law enforcement officer and top criminal prosecutor in the county.
One student asked if he was able to emotionally detach himself from some of the more violent cases he prosecutes. Schultz maintained that he is, as he has to be objective in his line of work. As an example, he cited how he has grown accustomed to witnessing autopsies as part of the job.
Schultz proceeded to relate the professional objectivity he strives for as an elected public official to an ideal that should also be prized by journalists. He stressed the importance of remaining neutral when covering stories so that the public can be informed, untainted by bias and able to make their own inferences about the news.
He also recommended that reporters take a professional interest in the stories they cover, properly research them and know that they are talking about when they are interviewing.
“I am more likely to give information to reporters that are informed about the case,” Schultz said, “Sometimes reporters want information from me, but they don’t even know who I am.”
Francis Schultz’s office consists of four full–time attorneys, two part–time attorneys and seven legal assistants. Together, they prosecute over 1,000 cases every year, 30 percent of which are DUIs. They usually see less than two homicides annually.
Although Schultz is often prosecuting cases that are seemingly on the behalf of the victim of a crime, he is actually representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and not the individual. As he pointed out, this can often lead to conflicts of interest in how victims of crimes want their cases to be handled. The District Attorney must operate within the bounds of the law and not for personal interests.
Schultz concluded his lecture by expressing his appreciation for having the opportunity to speak with college students about the role of media as it relates to law and the District Attorney’s office.
Cortney O’Brien, ’12, is a student in Professor Schaefer’s English 207 class who heard Schultz speak.
“We all appreciated him coming in during his busy schedule,” O’Brien said. “He told us about all of his responsibilities as district attorney, and he also offered journalism advice in the criminal justice system. Including how the justice system affects journalists.”
Schultz also discussed how to work with members of the justice system as a journalist.
“He told us that we have the right to public files, and also to know the facts before showing up to a crime scene or a court,” O’Brien said. “He said we should always introduce ourselves to authority figures. Also, we should keep bias out of our writing and make sure not to misquote someone because he has been misquoted before.”
Francis Schultz is currently serving in the second year of his third term as District Attorney. He said he has no ambition towards other elected office in the future, and he intends to continue to serve the people of Crawford County in his current office.