Case Number: 211002394
Court: Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas
Clients: The Philadelphia Inquirer, Samantha Melamed
Entry of Appearance Filed: May 25, 2022
Background: In July 2021, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Samantha Melamed submitted a public records request under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law seeking response records related to a 911 call seeking help at a specific Philadelphia address.
The police department denied most of the reporter’s request, determining that many of the records are exempt from disclosure under the public records law. Melamed appealed the denial to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records.
In October 2021, the OOR ordered the police department to turn over records that would help Melamed “ascertain how effectively the emergency response was conducted,” including meter information for the response vehicle, a description of the nature of the incident, and any travel or delay information. The police department then appealed the OOR’s final determination to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
Paula Knudsen Burke, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney for Pennsylvania, began representing Melamed and The Philadelphia Inquirer in this case in May 2022.
Quote: “The public has a right to know … whether police, fire and other emergency response agencies respond to requests for assistance in a timely, consistent manner,” Reporters Committee attorneys argued in Feb. 15, 2023, brief filed on behalf of Melamed and The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Related: Burke previously represented Melamed and The Philadelphia Inquirer in a public records dispute with the Philadelphia Police Department over records concerning Philadelphia Police Department employees dismissed in 2020. In that case, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ultimately ruled in favor of the police department in December 2022. The court’s opinion upheld the police department’s decision to deny the Inquirer access to the officer dismissal records.
Updates: On June 29, 2023, a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge ruled that the city of Philadelphia must produce the 911 call records for an in camera review. After reviewing the records privately, the judge issued an order on Nov. 13, 2023, requiring the city to turn them over to Melamed in their entirety.
2021-10-29: Notice of appeal
2022-05-25: Requester entry of appearance
2022-07-18: Court order staying briefing schedule
2022-11-17: Parties status update to court
2023-01-09: Court scheduling order
2023-01-11: Police department brief
2023-01-19: Court scheduling order
2023-02-15: Melamed brief