Case Number: 10 CD 2022
Court: Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
Clients: Philadelphia Inquirer, Craig McCoy, Joseph DiStefano
Petition Filed: Jan. 5, 2022
Background: In May 2021, Philadelphia Inquirer reporters Craig McCoy and Joseph DiStefano filed requests under Pennsvlvania’s Right to Know Law seeking emails, memos and other communications between staff members of the state’s Public School Employees’ Retirement System and three consulting firms. The Inquirer has reported extensively on the $70 billion pension fund’s problems over the past year, including federal investigations into investment returns and an exodus of its senior executives.
In response to the newspaper’s request for records, pension system officials produced some materials but refused to turn over many others. They specifically claimed that certain records related to criminal and noncriminal investigations were exempt from disclosure. The Inquirer then appealed to the state’s Office of Open Records, challenging PSERS’ decision to shield the records.
The OOR ultimately ordered PSERS officials to turn over certain responsive records from January 2020 up until the launch of an investigation of the fund’s investment performance in the summer of that year. However, the agency determined that while some records the newspaper requested were sufficiently specific, others were too broad. It also concluded that some records are exempt from disclosure because they are noncriminal investigative records while others are exempt because they reveal confidential proprietary information.
On behalf of the Inquirer and the two journalists, Paula Knudsen Burke, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney in Pennsylvania, appealed the OOR’s final determination to the Commonwealth Court. In a petition for review, the newspaper argues that the OOR erred by determining that many of the records could be withheld and requests that the court reverse the agency’s decision and order the release of the requested records.
Updates: After PSERS agreed to produce records requested by the Inquirer, Reporters Committee attorneys reached a settlement with pension system officials and agreed to dismiss the case. Using documents RCFP attorneys helped them obtain through this litigation, reporters for The Philadelphia Inquirer revealed in a story published on May 23, 2022, that managers of the state’s largest pension fund tried to undercut a former board member who raised concerns about the fund’s finances.
2021-12-06: OOR final determination upon reconsideration
2022-01-05: Petition for review