Kistler orders change in handling Right-to-Know requests involving judges, county judiciary

Judge Thomas K. Kistler.
Judge Thomas K. Kistler. CDT file photo

An order signed by Centre County President Judge Thomas King Kistler on Monday dictates who will handle Right-to-Know Law requests regarding the county Court of Common Pleas and members of the judiciary.

The Right-to-Know Law, signed in 2008, provides for a procedure to access public records and information. The order stated that county Administrator Tim Boyde and county solicitor Louis Glantz should deny all pending or future Right-to-Know requests relating to common pleas judges, magisterial district judges or the court in general and instead direct such requests to the county court administrator.

The order is the result of a meeting Friday, in which representatives of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, all four Centre County Court of Common Pleas judges, District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker, Boyde and Glantz presented information regarding to Right-to-Know requests submitted to Boyde and the county commissioners.

The order also stipulated that Boyde and the commissioners provide originals and copies of all requests received and responses or draft responses to pending requests to the court by the end of business Monday, and all information of communications of the court shall be kept confidential by the commissioners, administrator, their lawyers and staff.

Right-to-Know requests relating to the Centre County District Attorney’s Office that “could in any way implicate communications” with common pleas judges, magisterial district judges or the Court of Common Pleas in general are also to be denied by Boyde and Glantz, according to the order. The requests should instead be directed to the District Attorney’s Office and court administrator, the order states.

Right-to-Know requests submitted through county government about communication between members of the District Attorney’s Office and the judiciary have appeared in court filings recently.

Attorney Bernard Cantorna made a post-sentence motion in November asking for a new sentencing for his client, Jalene McClure, citing issues of impartiality of the court. A Right-to-Know request filed by Cantorna through the county yielded the presence of text-message exchanges between Judge Bradley P. Lunsford and Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller and assistant district attorneys Nathan Boob and Lindsay Foster, some that appeared to have been exchanged when court was in session, according to court documents.

Earlier this month, attorney Sean McGraw filed a motion calling for the dismissal of charges against his client, Justin Blake, because of communications between Parks Miller, Boob, Gillette-Walker and Lunsford that he argued presented an appearance of bias against Blake. Phone records obtained through Right-to-Know requests filed with the county were included with and cited in the filing. Some requests were still pending at the time of the filing, McGraw wrote in the motion.

At the time of McGraw’s filing, Parks Miller said the presence of phone contact between members of her office and judges does not imply misconduct and communication between prosecutors and judges about legal matters such as warrants and arrests are routine.

Kistler declined to comment on the order.

Boyde said the Friday meeting was called to find “common ground” over a “difference in interpretation” in state Right-to-Know laws with regard to the courts, judicial records and billing information, such as phone records. The county had responded to previous Right-to-Know requests about contact between specific individuals within the courts after consultation with the state Office of Open Records and attorneys considered experts in the state Right-to-Know law, Boyde said.

“We want a cooperative, collaborative relationship with the courts,” Boyde said. “We also have a responsibility to the general public for Right-to-Know records that come in.”