Case Number: 1469 CD 2021
Court: Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
Clients: Brittney Hailer and Pittsburgh Current
Petition for Review Filed: April 28, 2021
Background: In December 2020, Brittany Hailer, managing editor for the Pittsburgh Current, filed a public records request with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law. Hailer sought the autopsy and toxicology report for Daniel Pastorek, an inmate who died at the county jail in November 2020.
A month after filing her request, the medical examiner provided Hailer with the cause and manner of Pastorek’s death, but denied access to the autopsy records. The medical examiner argued that the autopsy records are exempt from disclosure because Allegheny County is considered a second-class county. According to the Pennsylvania Coroner’s Act, coroners of first- and second-class counties are not required to file their records with the county court system.
Hailer appealed to the Office of Open Records, which granted the request, rejecting the county’s argument that it was exempt from having to provide the records. The county then filed a petition for review in the County Court of Common Pleas in April challenging the OOR’s determination.
In May, Paula Knudsen Burke, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney in Pennsylvania, began representing Hailer and the Pittsburgh Current in this case.
Update: On Dec. 1, 2021, Judge W. Terrence O’Brien reversed the final determination of the Office of Open Records. A couple of weeks later, Hailer appealed Judge O’Brien’s decision to the Commonwealth Court.
2021-03-31: Office of Open Records’ final determination
2021-04-28: County petition for review
2021-05-14: RCFP entry of appearance
2021-05-17: Certification of record
2021-07-02: Brief in support of petition for review
2021-12-01: Opinion and order
2021-12-15: Notice of appeal