Citizen Taxpayer Guide to Navigating PA's Right to Know Law (RTKL)

Citizen Taxpayer Guide to Navigating PA's Right to Know Law (RTKL)

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

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IN THE COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

SIMON CAMPBELL v. AOPC (JUDICIAL BRANCH)

The Law v. The Rule

Is the Judicial Branch going to exempt itself from the Right to Know Law?

Background: are we a society in which Judges decide our legal rights by 'Rule'? Or are we a Constitutional Republic where our legal rights are decided by Law (i.e. the legislative branch)? If we are 'ruled' over by benevolent black robes then are we a free People?

On February 14, 2008 Governor Rendell signed into law Act 3 of 2008 (the Right to Know Law aka "RTKL"). The RTKL became effective on January 1, 2009. The law is the law. We are a society founded upon the Rule of Law. Judges do not create laws - they interpret them. Under Art. 2 Sec 1 of the PA Constitution the "legislative power of this Commonwealth shall be vested in a General Assembly." Rendell appointed Terry Mutchler to be the first Executive Director of theOffice of Open Records - the newly created administrative agency tasked with a training function and adjudicating appeals of denials issued by local and commonwealth agencies. While Terry was busy thinking about how to get the OOR new office up and running and with the media not paying attention the Pennsylvania Supreme Court - under then Chief Justice Ron Castille - on June 23, 2008 enacted Rule 509 via Court Order with an accompanying press release issued by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC). This action was unususual for several reasons:

  1. The Supreme Court was not ruling on any dispute between any parties (for example, nobody in 2008 was challenging the constitutionality of the RTKL as it applies to the judicial branch).

  2. As seen by the wording of the Court Order Rule 509 was not publicized in advance of its creation and received no public scrutiny or input.

  3. Rule 509 - if imposed onto citizens - would create a lower level of public access to financial records of the judiciary than the RTKL does.

  4. Rule 509 - if imposed onto citizens - creates different procedures and timelines for how a judicial agency must respond to a RTKL request than the RTKL does.

Ever since this Rule was created in 2008, AOPC (the administrative arm of the judicial branch and a judicial agency in its own right) has taken the view that citizens are not permitted to make RTKL requests of judicial agencies. AOPC have taken the view that Rule 509 shall be imposed onto citizens, and further that no County Court of Common Pleas is permitted to process requests for financial records under the RTKL. County Judges have surrendered their impartiality and passively gone along with AOPC's agenda.  It explains why, to this day, you cannot find contact details for an "Open Records Officer" or "Right to Know Law Appeals Officer" on any court website (nor will you find such information on OOR's website); even though Section 504(b) of the RTKL requires this information to be posted online. All you will find on Courts' and OOR's website is information for a 'Rule 509 Administrator' and/or Rule 509 Appeals Officer. Not the same thing at all!

Deadbeat Office of Attorney General

As a corollary matter, on 6-19-17 I  requested that Attorney General Josh Shapiro bring a mandamus enforcement action against AOPC for AOPC's willful defiance of its mandatory Section 504(b) internet posting requirements. On 6-30-17 the Office responded with this nonsensical letter. It is nonsense because OAG doesn't need the RTKL to define a mandamus role for itself. Mandamus is an independent action that OAG can bring against any government agency for defying the law, no matter what law is being defied. Clearly, Shapiro, like his predecessor Kathleen Kane picks and chooses what laws he wants to enforce. I guess the Right to Know Law isn't a priority.

AOPC Kindergarteners

Rather than act as grown-ups, AOPC are dealing with the "Law v. Rule" contentious issue like Kindergarten children. What I mean is; if AOPC wishes to argue that the RTKL doesn't apply to the judicial branch then they must argue that it is unconstitutional as to the judiciary. Only they haven't made that argument. Send them a RTKL request and all they do is act like 3-year olds by ignoring it and responding as if you sent them a Rule 509 request. County Courts do the same thing. It is embarassing to witness. Witness how this litigation got to be at the Commonwealth Court. It's as if two different worlds existed! I sent a 'Law request'. They ignored it and sent a 'Rule response'. I ignored their 'Rule response' and filed a 'Law appeal'. They ignored my 'Law appeal' and sent a follow up 'Rule answer'. I ignored their 'Rule answer' (other than paying copy fees). It looks like two parties can play the silly game AOPC wanted to play. Hello Commonwealth Court, the children who have been ignoring each other, have arrived for your adjudication ....

RTKL Rule 509
3-28-17: RTKL request received by AOPC (initial response due within 5 business days).
4-7-17: AOPC sent this Rule 509 response within 10 business days.
4-18-17: RTKL appeal launched with AOPC's appeals officer arguing that the request was deemed denied per Section 901 of the RTKL. Final determination now due within 30 days of the appeal filing per Section 1101(b)(1) of the RTKL.
5-11-17: AOPC sent this Rule 509 answer, releasing this contract, these redacted invoices (totaling $60,000), but denying Judge Ruest's pay statements; and informing me that I had a right to a Rule 509 appeal.
5-18-17: No RTKL final determination was issued therefore my RTKL appeal was deemed denied per Section 1101(b)(2) of the RTKL. This created the right of further appeal to the Commonwealth Court per Section 1301(a).

COMMONWEALTH COURT LITIGATION BEGINS

6-19-17: Petition for Review - seeking costs and sanctions against AOPC for its disregard of law.

6-21-19: Amended certificate of service to include Office of Attorney General.

6-29-17: Court requires transmission of the Record from the AOPC administrative appeal

7-18-18 AOPC attorney Entry of Appearance

7-26-17 AOPC Transmits Record

8-4-17 Briefing instructions for Petitioner

9-12-17 CAMPBELL BRIEF (and Reproduced Record)

10-16-17 AOPC Brief