Pennsylvania Judiciary Exempt From The Right to Know Law?!

On February 14, 2008 Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell signed the "new" Right to Know Law ("RTKL") into law, to become effective January 1, 2009. Among other things it requires all three branches of Government (legislative, executive, & judicial), equally and alike, to release financial records in accordance with the law. Section 304(a) of the RTKL reads:

"A judicial agency shall provide financial records in accordance with this act or any rule or order of court providing equal or greater access to the records" (emphasis added).

The legislature made clear that although it's co-equal branch of government may generate its own "rule" to release financial records (the right of the judiciary to generate such a rule can also be found in Art. 5 Sec. 10 of the PA Constitution) any such rule was supposed to be one that provided equal or greater access to financial records, not less access! To the gushing applause of itself, on June 23, 2008, the PA Supreme Court penned this Court Order and associated press release. It gave life to Pa. R.J.A. Rule 509.to become effective on January 1, 2009 at the same time as the RTKL became effective. The very next day, on June 24, 2008, the un-elected and unaccountable (at least to We the People) Court Administrator of Pennsylvania, Zygmont Pines, sent this memorandum to all sixty-seven (67) Court of Common Pleas' President Judges in Pennsylvania. In it, the Court Administrator basically tells them that the new RTKL is not to be followed by the judicial branch of government.


2008 PA Supreme Court Gone Wild

The enactment of Rule 509 in 2008 by the Supreme Court was in wanton disregard for our Constitution and the separation of powers. Citizens' substantive legal rights do not, and cannot, come from any judicial Rule. Our legal rights come from the law! Only the legislature has constitutional authority to make laws (see Art. 2. Sec. 1 of the PA Constitution). Rule 509 is not a rule that provides equal of greater access to the financial records of the judiciary. It is a rule that provides for more restricted access. For example:

  • In Rule 509(a) the definition of a financial record is more restrictive than the RTKL (e.g. it excludes names and salaries).
  • In Rule 509(a) there is no presumption that every financial record shall be presumed to be available in accordance with the RTKL (as stated is mandatory in Section 305(b) of the RTKL).
  • In Rule 509(b) there are mandatory denials of certain records that must occur, whereas under the RTKL all Section 708 denial bases are denial options not mandates.
  • In Rule 509(b)(4) the Court Administrator of PA has broad discretionary authority to deny access to any financial records of his/her choice under arbitrary standards; whereas under Section 506(c)(3) of the RTKL the Agency Head has the opposite authority i.e. the authortity to release records that could otherwise be denied.
  • Section 708(c) of the RTKL limits the denial of financial records to Section 708(b)(1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (16) or (17). Rule 509 has no such denial restrictions and, as stated above, empowers the Court Administrator with broad discretionary authority to deny access to any financial record of his choice.
  • In Rule 509(c)(1) requests can only be submitted to a "judicial district" not to a judicial agency. Judicial districts sometimes span more than one County and include all courts in that district. The phrase "judicial district" is not found in the RTKL.

The Supreme Court's Order and press release of 2008 was a legislative rewrite of the RTKL. Rule 509 does not comport with the language of Section 304(a) of the RTKL (see "or any rule or order of court providing equal or greater access to the records) nor does it comport with the language of Section 305(b) of the RTKL (see "a financial record in the possession of a judicial agency shall be presumed to be available in accordance with this act"). Rule 509 was an attack on the constitutional authority of the legislative branch which gave citizens the legal right to obtain financial records of all branches of government in accordance with a duly enacted statute i.e. the Right to Know Law.

Campbell v. Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC)

"The Law v. The Rule"

AOPC are the bureaucrats who run the judicial branch of Government. The AOPC big chief is the Court of Administrator of Pennsylvania (today: Tom Darr,in 2008: Zygmont Pines). The Court Administrator of PA reports to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. To the public, he is un-elected and unaccountable. After the horror of the PA Supreme Court's Court Order and Press Release, the in 2008 the Court Administrator took it upon himself to interpret the Order as meaning the judiciary shall only provide records in accordance with the crappy and inferior Rule 509 and ignore the RTKL in its entirety. This is why, today, no Court in Pennsylvania mentions the RTKL on its website. I am challenging AOPC's interpretation of the 2008 Court Order as unconstitutional. My first go-around resulted in the Commonwealth Court dismissing my appeal on a technicality. What you see below is my second go-around: