Speaking to Students at SSHE

Last night, I visited the State System of Higher Education’s Dixon Center in Harrisburg to speak to a group of students from across the state about Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.

I was invited to speak by Dr. Duane Milne. It was a great discussion, and I greatly appreciate the invitation.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used:

State System of Higher Education – Dr. Duane Milne – Oct. 8, 2019 (PPTX)
State System of Higher Education – Dr. Duane Milne – Oct. 8, 2019 (PDF)

If you’re a professor in Pennsylvania and you’d like me to speak to your class, let me know and I’ll do my best to make it happen.

Speaking to Students at Messiah College

Earlier this afternoon, I visited Messiah College in Grantham to speak to Dr. David Dixon’s journalism class about Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.

It was a great session, and I very much appreciate the invitation.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used:

Messiah College – Dr. David Dixon – Oct. 4, 2019 (PPTX)
Messiah College – Dr. David Dixon – Oct. 4, 2019 (PDF)

If you’re a professor in Pennsylvania and you’d like me to speak to your class, let me know and I’ll do my best to make it happen.

Oct. 10 – Requester Training in Harrisburg

Office of Open Records LogoThe Office of Open Records is hosting a training session for requesters (media and non-media) at our office in Harrisburg on Thursday, Oct. 10, starting at 11 a.m.

This event will focus on various areas of Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law, including:

  • How to file a good RTKL request
  • Timelines and deadlines
  • Fees under the RTKL
  • Information in databases
  • How to appeal when your request is denied
  • Common reasons agencies deny requests

And much more.

This training session is free and open to everyone. To register, visit the OOR’s EvenbtBrite page.

Presentation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Earlier this afternoon at the office of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I led a training session about Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.

Many thanks to the Post-Gazette for the invitation. I very much appreciate it.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used:

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Oct. 1, 2019 (PPTX)
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Oct. 1, 2019 (PDF)

If you’re interested in training about the Right-to-Know Law and/or the Sunshine Act (for agencies or requesters), please let us know.

Presentation at Center for Media Innovation

This morning at Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation in Pittsburgh, I led a training session for media requesters and the public. The session focused on Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.

Many thanks to CMI and its director, Andrew Conte, for the invitation. I very much appreciate it.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used:

Center for Media Innovation – Oct. 1, 2019 (PPTX)
Center for Media Innovation – Oct. 1, 2019 (PDF)

If you’re interested in training about the Right-to-Know Law and/or the Sunshine Act (for agencies or requesters), please let us know.

Right-to-Know Law Roundtable – Complete Video

Office of Open Records LogoEarlier this month, the Office of Open Records hosted the first-ever Right-to-Know Law Roundtable, an event designed to help requesters better understand Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.

PCN was on hand to record the Roundtable, which I very much appreciate, and we’re able to present the following videos which cover the entire event.

The first video features the opening speaker, Judge Dominic F. Pileggi, a former state senator and author of the Right-to-Know Law, along with a discussion on the topic Practical Tips for Writing an Effective RTKL Request moderated by Angela Couloumbis (Philadelphia Inquirer) with panelists Melissa Melewsky, Esq. (Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association), Jan Murphy (Pennlive), and Megan Shannon, Esq. (Offit Kurman).

The second video features a discussion on the topic Enforcing Office of Open Records Final Determinations moderated by Joyce Davis (Pennlive) with panelists Adrienne Langer, Esq. (Cusick, DeCaro & Langer), Terry Mutchler, Esq. (Mutchler Lyons), and Thea Paolini, Esq., MBA (Nauman, Smith, Shissler & Hall).

The third video features a discussion on the topic Law Enforcement Records and the Right-to-Know Law moderated by Cindy Simmons (Pennsylvania State University) with panelists Paula Knudsen, Esq. (The Caucus), William Rozier (Pennsylvania State Police), and Liz Evans Scolforo (York Dispatch).

The fourth (and final) video features a one-on-one discussion between Jaime Fettrow-Alderfer (Lebanon Valley College) and Liz Navratil (Spotlight PA) about Using the Right-to-Know Law in Reporting.

We hope to organize more events like the RTKL Roundtable in the future. Please contact us if you have any comments or suggestions. And don’t forget to check our training calendar for all of our upcoming events.

Right-to-Know Law Roundtable – Sept. 5 in Harrisburg

Office of Open Records LogoThe Office of Open Records has put together an event we’re calling the Right-to-Know Law Rountable.

The RTKL Roundtable is the first event of its kind — a half-day session of panels and speakers filled with topics specifically of interest to people who use the RTKL as requesters. It’s taking place in Harrisburg on Sept. 5, 2019, starting at 1 p.m.

The lineup is packed with great speakers and moderators, including Judge Dominic Pileggi (author of the RTKL), attorneys whose practice includes RTKL work, journalists with great experience using the RTKL, and college professors.

Discussions will include:

  • Practical Tips for Writing an Effective RTKL Request
  • Enforcing OOR Final Determinations
  • Law Enforcement Records and the RTKL

The RTKL Roundtable is free and open to everyone. Although seating is necessarily limited, we are hoping to record the event and make it available online at a future date.

This program has been approved for 3 substantive CLE credits. It will be held at the office of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, 3899 N. Front St., Harrisburg, PA 17110.

For the complete agenda, and to register, click here.

OOR Defends Constitutionality of the RTKL

Office of Open Records LogoAs a general rule, the Office of Open Records does not participate in any appeals beyond the OOR itself. Occasionally, however, we are compelled to.

In the case of Lehighton Area School District v. Campbell, stemming from OOR Dkt. No.: AP 2018-2187, the District’s trial brief included a claim that the Right-to-Know Law is unconstitutional.

Today, the OOR filed an Amicus Brief, arguing strongly in support of the RTKL’s constitutionality. (Judge Steven R. Serfass had previously issued an order allowing the OOR to file the brief.)

In its trial brief, the District wrote: “Is the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law unconstitutional as it is written and as it is applied. Suggested answer: Yes.”

The District and its solicitor argued that the RTKL is unconstitutional because the OOR declined to hold a hearing in this case, thus depriving the District of due process: “Under the statute, the District is not allowed to appeal the denial of a hearing, even if that denial results in an inadequate record, as was the case here.”

The OOR’s brief details the ways in which the RTKL specifically ensures due process, including the fact that both parties enjoy notice and an opportunity to be heard before the OOR and the fact that the trial court may choose to (as it did hear) hold a hearing to accept new evidence.

In this case, “1) the OOR specifically established a case management order advising the parties of their right to submit evidence and legal argument; 2) the District was given the time and was able to submit a privilege/exemption log identifying and explaining every redaction to the requested records; 3) the District was given the time and was able to submit the testimonial affidavits of nine (9) witnesses; and, 4) at no point during the appeal did the District request additional time from the OOR to make its evidentiary submissions.” (Emphasis in original.)

The OOR also wrote that the “District submitted conclusory affidavits to the OOR that simply failed to establish a nexus between the records requested and the exemptions cited. For reasons known only to itself and its solicitor, the District delayed submitting supporting evidence until the hearing before this Court. The same testimony that was given at the hearing could and should have been provided in affidavit form to the OOR.”

In a footnote the OOR added, “Over the five most recently completed calendar years, the OOR has docketed and adjudicated more than 11,000 appeals. Agencies of all sizes regularly submit evidence to the OOR far more complex than that offered by the District before the OOR and this Court. None, other than the District, has advanced a claim that the RTKL is unconstitutional.”

Here is the OOR’s complete Brief of Amicus Curiae.

Judge: Agency Had a “Mandatory Duty” to Preserve Records

Office of Open Records LogoJudge James A. Gibbons of Lackawanna County has ordered the City of Scranton to pay $3,484 in legal fees to the Scranton Times-Tribune, finding that the agency had not preserved records requested under the Right-to-Know Law.

The decision, which came after an appeal of the Office of Open Records’ final determination in Lockwood v. City of Scranton (OOR Dkt. No.: AP 2019-0279), was issued yesterday.

Judge Gibbons wrote:

“[T]he City of Scranton does not quarrel that it had a mandatory duty under the [RTKL] to preserve the videotape requested and it further acknowledges its failure to do so. While it may not have been intentional, we must bear in mind the remedial purpose behind the [RTKL], and if that purpose is to be promoted, there need be consequences, even for benign neglect. We will, therefore, award court costs and attorney’s fees to the Plaintiffs.”

Jim Lockwood, a reporter for the Times-Tribune, requested video from surveillance cameras in Scranton City Hall. The city denied the request, stating that the videos were exempt under Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL, the criminal investigative exemption.

Lockwood appealed the denial to the OOR. During the course of the appeal before the OOR, the city did not present any evidence. The OOR held that the video must be released.

The lesson for agencies is simple: When a RTKL request is received, all potentially responsive records should be maintained throughout the entire RTKL process, including any and all appeals.

Presentation – RTKL Training for Requesters

Earlier today at the Office of Open Records in Harrisburg, I hosted a training session designed for requesters, including members of the media and members of the public.

The session focused on the Right-to-Know Law, and I appreciate everyone who attended.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used:

RTKL Training for Requesters – July 24, 2019 – PDF
RTKL Training for Requesters – July 24, 2019 – PPTX

A similar session is scheduled to take place on October 10. Get the details and sign up here.

If you’re interested in training about the Right-to-Know Law and/or the Sunshine Act, please let us know.