Two Agencies Ordered to Pay Legal Fees to Requesters

Office of Open Records LogoThis year, at least two Pennsylvania courts have ordered government agencies to pay a requester’s legal fees after the agency was found to have been acting in bad faith under the Right-to-Know Law.

The first case (OOR Docket 2017-0994) began with a March 2017 request for records relating to a waste water plant construction project in Reading. After the city invoked a 30-day extension to respond, the request was deemed denied. The requester appealed to the Office of Open Records. The city, which bears the burden of proof under the RTKL, did not make any submissions during the appeal.

In a subsequent appeal also involving Reading (OOR Docket 2018-0244), the OOR found that, “Since January 2017, the OOR has granted eleven other appeals wherein the City invoked a thirty-day extension but ultimately did not respond to the Request or participate on appeal. … [T]he City has repeatedly ignored requests for records and not participated before the OOR. Based on the City’s failure to comply with its statutorily mandated duties under the RTKL, the OOR finds that the City acted in bad faith in the present matter by engaging in the same conduct.”

In August 2018, Judge James M. Lillis of the Berks County Court of Common Pleas ordered the city to pay $12,071.75 in legal fees to the requester.

The second case (OOR Docket 2014-1695) began with a 2014 request for records related to illnesses contracted by inmates and staff members at the state prison in Fayette.

In March 2018, Judge Robert Simpson of the Commonwealth Court ruled that “some of [the Department of Corrections’] noncompliance [with an OOR order] constitutes bad faith that merits statutory sanctions.”

In October 2018, Judge Simpson ordered DOC to pay $118,458.37 in legal fees to the requester.

Speaking to Journalism Students at Lock Haven University

Yesterday, I visited Lock Haven University to speak to a journalism class about Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.

I spoke to Dr. Sharon Stringer’s Communications Law & Ethics class, and it was a great session. I very much appreciate the invitation.

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

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used:

Lock Haven University – Dr. Sharon Stringer – Oct. 30, 2018 (PPTX)
Lock Haven University – Dr. Sharon Stringer – Oct. 30, 2018 (PDF)

Draft Update to RTKL Flowchart

RTKL Flow Chart DRAFTMany years ago, the Office of Open Records created a flowchart to help explain Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law process to both agencies and requesters.

In response to some suggestions to make the flowchart even more useful, we’re updating it. And we’d love to have your input.

Here are two versions of the flow chart, both in PDF. The current version first, followed by the draft update:

If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, please do! Leave a comment on this blog post, or use the OOR’s comment form.

Presentation for Requester Training

Earlier today, the Office of Open Records hosted a training session designed for requesters here at our office in Harrisburg.

Topics covered include how to write a good RTKL request, accessing information in databases, significant deadlines in the RTKL, how to appeal a RTKL denial, and more.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used for this session:

Requester Training – Oct. 11, 2018 – PDF
Requester Training – Oct. 11, 2018 – PPTX

The OOR regularly provides training on Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law and Sunshine Act. Our training calendar is available here, and we always welcome requests to provide training.

Some upcoming training sessions of note include:

Annual Training in Harrisburg on Nov. 1

Open records_logo stackedThis year’s Office of Open Records (OOR) Annual Training session will take place on Thursday, Nov. 1, in Harrisburg.

Register here for the OOR’s annual training.

The training, which will take place from 2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., will cover Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) and Sunshine Act, including:

  • An overview of important OOR resources available on the OOR website for both agencies and requesters to help with your RTKL practice.
  • A review of ethical issues in both the RTKL and the Sunshine Act. This session will discuss the ethical components of both laws and provide practice tips to ensure compliance.
  • An examination of relevant RTKL case law and notable OOR decisions from the past year. This session will also look at upcoming legal trends as well as proposed OOR regulations and the possible effect both could have on your RTKL practice.

The OOR’s Annual Training is free and open to everyone. (While everyone is welcome to attend, those most likely to benefit include elected and appointed public officials, Agency Open Records Officers, and attorneys who regularly deal with the RTKL and/or the Sunshine Act. The OOR will schedule separate sessions to focus on issues more of interest to requesters, such as this session on Oct. 11, 2018.)

The Annual Training can be attended in person or online via webinar.

This program is pending approval for CLE credit (ethics and regular).

Soon after the event, a video of the training will be available online.

Register here for the OOR’s annual training.

You can also see the OOR’s entire training calendar.

Podcast: Law Enforcement Records

Podcast Logo CroppedThe fifth episode of the Open Records in Pennsylvania podcast is now available.

This episode looks at how law enforcement records, including police video and audio recordings, are handled under the Right-to-Know Law.



To subscribe on other podcast apps, search for “Open Records in Pennsylvania” to find our feed.


Episode 5 of the Open Records in Pennsylvania podcast

If you have ideas for future episodes of the podcast, I’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments below, tweet to @ErikOpenRecords or @OpenRecordsPA, or contact the OOR.