The Commonwealth Court doesn’t want to get involved in a dispute between the Centre County District Attorney’s Office and group that asked for information.
Last week, three members of the state appeals court sent the issue back to Centre County.
Judge Robert Simpson wrote the opinion. He heard the case with judges Anne Covey and Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter.
“Concluding we lack jurisdiction, we transfer the matter to the proper tribunal,” Simpson wrote.
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The tribunal in question is the Centre County Court of Common Pleas.
We transfer the matter to the proper tribunal.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson
At issue is a request from Pennsylvanians for Union Reform. The group submitted a request to the DA’s office regarding cellphone usage in 2015, looking for “itemized details of time and length of calls between all current and former members of the DA office and members of the judiciary on their government-issued cellphones.”
The problem? While the bill for those phones was paid by the county, the DA’s office maintained that as a judicial agency, that level of detail was not required.
PFUR appealed. The county appeals officer declared the documents exempt. PFUR appealed again to the Commonwealth Court.
But the court’s involvement is predicated on an assumption that, as DA Stacy Parks Miller has maintained, her office is a judicial agency. In another court case, the Commonwealth Court said otherwise, ruling it a local agency. They did that again with the PFUR appeal.
“Because the DA office is not a judicial agency, the instant appeal was not properly filed in this court,” Simpson wrote.
Parks Miller was not surprised by the decision.
“We only desire that people follow the law and are indifferent as to what court hears matters where people still apparently and unfortunately want to continuously fight about this issue which was decided in our favor at least over a year ago, first by (Huntingdon County Senior) Judge (Stewart) Kurtz and now by the Commonwealth Court,” said Parks Miller.
We only desire that people follow the law.
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller
In an April decision, another panel of the Commonwealth Court, including Simpson and President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt, heard related cases between Centre County Judge Jonathan D. Grine and District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker against the county regarding similar requests of information. The county appealed that case to the court.
In that case, Simpson wrote that the county was wrong in releasing a color-coded spreadsheet of information including the judges’ partial phone numbers and duration of calls.
The court enjoined the county from such actions in the future, directing that any such requests go to a designated open records officer for the judicial agency, in this case, the court.
“We are persuaded that greater injury will result from denial of the injunction than from granting it,” Simpson wrote.
“The separation of powers issue is huge. One arm of government cannot interfere with another,” Parks Miller said.