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ACLU of Pennsylvania v. Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office

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  1. Freedom of Information

Court: Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas

Date Filed: May 3, 2021

Update: On Aug. 11, 2021, the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas denied the ACLU’s appeal. The judge issued an opinion in support of the court’s ruling on Dec. 30, 2021. 

Background: In August 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a Right to Know Law request with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office seeking criminal complaints filed with local courts about solicitation. The ACLU wanted to determine whether the office was actually following District Attorney Larry Krasner’s purported policy to reduce solicitation charges against sex workers.

The District Attorney’s Office declined to fulfill the request and denied the ACLU’s appeal, claiming that the records were judicial because they had been filed in court. The ACLU then appealed again to the Court of Common Pleas.

Our Position: The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas should order the District Attorney’s Office to release the requested records.

  • Requiring the ACLU to obtain the requested set of criminal complaints exclusively from the courts would produce an incomplete set of records because many criminal records are sealed under Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate law.
  • Requiring bulk requests of criminal complaints to be obtained exclusively from the courts would be impracticable, running counter to the RTKL’s intent to facilitate access to public records.
  • The public interest is served by requiring the District Attorney’s Office to disclose criminal complaints pursuant to the RTKL.

Quote: “Without the ability to obtain criminal complaints from the DAO, journalists and other members of the public would be unable to monitor the DAO’s application of its non-prosecution policies — oversight the RTKL is meant to allow.”

Related: Through its Local Legal Initiative in Pennsylvania, attorneys for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press have been filing public records lawsuits on behalf of local journalists and news organizations in an effort to improve the state’s Right to Know Law. Additionally, the Reporters Committee tracks public records and open meetings laws in every state. To learn more about our work in this area and to see what public records exemptions look like in your area, check out our Open Government Guide.