Case Number: AP 2021-0916
Court: Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
Clients: Daniel Schwartz
Lawsuit Filed: Dec. 20, 2021
Background: In March 2021, freelance investigative journalist Daniel Schwartz filed a public records request under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law seeking Pennsylvania State Police officers’ communications related to protests over a 350-mile pipeline that transports natural gas across the state. Schwartz specifically sought unredacted versions of emails that he had previously requested from the State Police, as well as additional law enforcement text and voice messages concerning the Mariner East pipeline project.
The State Police partially denied the reporter’s request, prompting Schwartz to appeal to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records.
In June 2021, the OOR issued a Final Determination granting in part and denying in part Schwartz’s appeal and ordering the State Police to turn over certain law enforcement officers’ communications or provide a statement to the reporter explaining that the requested records do not exist within 30 days.
The State Police failed to comply with the OOR’s order. And in December 2021, attorneys for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic filed a petition asking the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania to enforce the OOR’s order, arguing that the State Police violated the Right to Know Law and deprived Schwartz of his right to access public records.
Quote: “I’ve seen again and again in my reporting that access to public records is essential to both inform the public and hold the government accountable,” Schwartz said in a press release about the lawsuit. “It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to get access.”
Update: On Aug. 24, 2022, a Commonwealth Court judge denied Schwartz’s petition to appeal.
2021-06-22: Office of Open Records Final Determination
2022-01-26: Order for March hearing
2022-03-29: PA State Police post-hearing brief
2022-04-12: Petitioner’s post-hearing brief
2022-08-24: Commonwealth Court opinion