A Commonwealth Court ruling Thursday means that more court review to determine whether protected documents should actually be protected.
Judges Dan Pellegrini, Mary Hannah Leavitt and Anne Covey ruled unanimously that they want to review emails between the state Attorney General’s Office and investigators for Louis Freeh regarding his assessment of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Freeh was hired by Penn State to conduct the investigation.
“This is a big victory for transparency in Pennsylvania,” Ryan Bagwell said in a statement.
Bagwell asked for the documents in a Right to Know request in December on behalf of the Penn State Sunshine Fund. According to the group’s website, the Sunshine Fund consists of 353 Penn State supporters from 35 states “dedicated to the institution of meaningful transparency at the commonwealth’s flagship institution.”
“It’s a reminder to (Attorney General) Kathleen Kane that her office has an obligation to comply with the law, even if it’s not subject to the same independent administrative review like other state agencies are,” Bagwell said in his statement.
According to court documents, Kane’s office originally denied the request, and attorneys for Bagwell appealed the decision in January. His request included “all letters, emails, memos, reports, transcripts, audio recordings or video recordings that were sent or received by OAG employees ... between Nov. 1, 2011 and Dec. 31, 2012” to or from Freeh and any of his employees.
Some additional material was provided, but more was not disclosed, with the appeals officer claiming exemption because they were related to criminal investigations.
Bagwell appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which said the burden of proving the material should be exempt falls on Kane’s office.
“All we have are the conclusions that they fell within this provision merely by stating conclusions such as ‘investigative report,’ ‘hiring practices’ or ‘victimization,’” Pellegrini wrote. “The evidence must be specific enough to permit this court to ascertain how disclosure of the entries would reflect that the records sought fall within the proffered exemptions.”
The opinion said the office should have filed the documents with the court under seal for review. That’s what will happen now, as the court ordered the disputed records to be submitted within 30 days.