In this Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) case the Commonwealth Court was asked to weigh in on situations where one agency holds a record containing information about another agency or another agency’s personnel, and who may decide to release or withhold such information if requested under the RTKL. Specifically addressing bills for the cellphones of several judges that were paid for by the county government, the court determined a RTKL request for these records must be directed to the respective judicial agency to determine whether to release the records.

Centre County received a RTKL request seeking bills associated with several Judges’ cellular phones. The phones were paid for by the County. The County responded to the request without notifying the judges or the court’s open records officer, by creating a color-coded spreadsheet that tracked the Judges’ cell phone usage. The County’s response did not reveal the content of the communications, nor did it contain the cost of cellular services or any dollar amounts. The affected Judges filed complaints seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and asserting a violation of the separation of powers doctrine. The Court of Common Pleas of Centre County issued a preliminary injunction against the County enjoining it from responding to RTKL requests for “judicial records” and directed the County to refer such requests to the judicial agency’s open records officer. The County appealed.

On appeal the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s order. It determined that although the County paid the bills, because the bills pertained to the activities of a judicial employee they should be considered records of a judicial agency. Therefore the request should have been forwarded to the respective judicial agency’s open records officer.  Because records of a judicial agency have a different standard for disclosure than that of a local agency, the decision to release or withhold the requested records could have been different. The court summarized its holding by stating that “the type of agency to which a RTKL request is directed matters.” The court upheld the trial court’s injunction, only modifying the term “judicial records” to “records of a judicial agency.”

Click here to read: Grine v. Cnty of Centre, 854 and 855 C.D. 2015 (Pa. Cmwlth. Apr. 13, 2016).

Edited by:

Sivertsen_BLOG Zachary A. Sivertsen, Esq.