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Allegheny County v. Hailer

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  1. Freedom of Information

Case Number: SA-21-000166

Court: Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas

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.

Filings:

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

2021-08-02: Brief of Hailer and Pittsburgh Current in response to petition for judicial review