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Lancaster County Office of the Coroner v. Panyard

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  1. Freedom of Information

Case Number: 24-00035

Court: Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas

Clients: LNP | LancasterOnline, Jack Panyard

Entry of Appearance Filed: Jan. 5, 2024

Background: In October 2023, Jack Panyard, a reporter for LNP | LancasterOnline, submitted a request under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law to Lancaster County seeking the name of a 3-year-old who died of an accidental gunshot wound to the head.

Lancaster County denied the reporter’s request, arguing, among other things, that it could not release the names of deceased minors, though the county has done so in the past. Panyard appealed to Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records, which sided with the reporter and ordered the county to turn over the requested information.

Lancaster County appealed to the Court of Common Pleas on Jan. 3, 2024. Two days later, Paula Knudsen Burke, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney for Pennsylvania, began representing Panyard and LNP. On Jan. 9, 2024, the County Coroner substituted his office for that of the elected county commissioners, who do not agree with the appeal.

Quote: “Pennsylvania courts have repeatedly held autopsy records are open for public access,” Burke told LNP. “The Lancaster County coroner’s appeal is puzzling. … Why should taxpayers have to foot the bill when courts have repeatedly held these are public records?”

Related: In July 2023, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ordered Allegheny County to provide journalist Brittany Hailer, represented by Burke, with autopsy records concerning a 63-year-old man who died in custody, holding that autopsy and toxicology reports are publicly accessible under Pennsylvania’s Coroner’s Act.


2023-12-04: OOR final determination

2024-01-03: Agency petition for review

2024-01-05: Entry of appearance

2024-01-09: Amended petition for review

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