Centre County Judge Orders Change Handling Right-to-Know Requests About Court


HomePennsylvania Open Government ForumOpen Discussion on Open GovernmentCentre County Judge Orders Change Handling Right-to-Know Requests About Court

This topic contains 59 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Watchdog7 11 months, 4 weeks ago. This post has been viewed 5987 times

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  • #7249

    Watchdog7
    Participant

    Among a strong stench emitting from the Centre County Judiciary, Centre County President Judge Thomas King Kistler signed an order March 16 2015 dictating who will and will not handle Right-to-Know Law requests regarding the county Court of Common Pleas and members of the county judiciary. The stench originated from reassignment of duties of one judge now allowed to hear only DUI cases, from Kistler nominated by governor Wolf and then withdrawn for a position on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court) and from accusation of forgery of another judge’s signature by the Centre County District Attorney. A more detailed explanation may be read at: http://www.centredaily.com/2015/03/16/4655189/kistler-orders-change-in-handling.html and by using browser search terms with names included in the article. Kistler’s Christmas card discussed in the article is too offensive to show in the article. If you must, Browse Kistler Christmas card image.

    http://articles.philly.com/2015-02-25/news/59465797_1_kistler-senate-republicans-wolf-nominee

    Question: Does a County Court of Common Pleas judge have the authority to change a long-standing county Right to Know policy involving procedures for open records and open meetings after the court comes under scrutiny by the Supreme Court and Pennsylvania Attorney General?

    #7253
    Kim de Bourbon
    Kim de Bourbon
    Keymaster

    This is a complicated issue, as records held by the court (“judicial agencies”) are generally NOT subject to access under the Right to Know Law.

    The Right to Know Law provides access only to financial records of the court:

    Section 304. Judicial agencies.

    (a) Requirement. — A judicial agency shall provide financial records in accordance with this act or any rule or order of court providing equal or greater access to the records.
    (b) Prohibition. — A judicial agency may not deny a requester access to a financial record due to the intended use of the financial record by the requester.

    So requesters may not use the RTK Law to obtain general records from judicial agencies.

    However, if the same records — correspondence and communications, for instance — are in the hands of a local agency, those records could be considered local public records that are subject to the RTK Law.

    It certainly is not clear to me that a county Court of Common Pleas has jurisdiction over the way a local agency (the county) responds to Right to Know requests.

    #7257

    Watchdog7
    Participant

    Thank you for the clarity Ms De Bourbon, it is helpful.

    Since my original post, more about this issue has transpired.

    The complexity of this epitasis increases as lawsuits are filed against the county by county Judge Jonathan D. Grine and District Judge (magistrate) Kelley Gillette-Walker on March 17. (Gillete-Walker previously worked in the County District Attorney’s office where charges of forgery of a court document are alleged against the District Attorney and now under investigation by the Commonwealth Attorney General.)

    The suits followed an administrative order signed on March 16 by President Judge Kistler dictating that the court, not the county’s open records officer, will handle Right-to-Know Law requests regarding the county Court of Common Pleas and members of the judiciary. The order was signed under seal thus preventing public access to the order.

    Verizon telephone records, not case files, seem to be the chief focus.

    Verizon bills for all county offices are submitted for routine payment by the county disburser using public funds. The county pays the court’s bills. They are financial records by any reasonable definition. Telephone and computer records are routinely used to monitor communication abuse by all employees. While court judicial records are exempted from the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law (2008), financial records are not exempted.

    Verizon records provide telephone numbers, date, time, and duration of calls and texts. That information is routinely used to perform communication link analysis, which is a very effective investigation tool. It also seems to be of unusual concern to the Centre County judiciary. Many of the allegations of malfeasance involve telephone calling and texting. About six cases are involved.

    There is more, many Centre County citizens are not familiar with Clinton County Judge J. Michael Williamson. Williamson is temporarily hearing Centre County cases and mentioned by President Judge Kistler in the local media. Who is Judge Williamson? If you search the record for this judge, many in Centre County, I opine, would not vote for him. He needs a hard look.
    The Centre County court system needs lots of Sunshine and an independent assessment by qualified jurists. The ACLU should be interested too.

    http://montarsiblog.blogspot.com/2012/03/judge-j-michael-williamson-arrested-for.html

    http://www.sungazette.com/page/content.detail/id/534394/Conduct-board-reprimands-area-judge.html?nav=5014

    http://www.lockhaven.com/page/content.detail/id/531420/High-court-reprimands-local-judges.html

    #7262

    Watchdog7
    Participant

    Watchdog received an email asking, “What sense does this make in light of [President Judge] Kistler’s order [sealing county telephone billing data involving the judiciary]? This makes it look like they are hiding something. These are only BILLING records (i.e. financial records) that are being requested (Date, timestamp and length of call.) In the big scheme of things, why would this very limited information be such cause for alarm within the county court system?”

    Watchdog replies: ex parte and sub rosa communication using cell phones have been alleged involving about six Centre County court cases. Billing data provides telephone numbers called (sometimes telephone numbers of those calling), date, time, and duration of call or text. Taken together, this information often called pin or tolling information allows investigative analysts to develop considerable information or intelligence (called link analysis) without listening to a call or reading text. Understandably, the telephone numbers and address of judges and district attorneys are excepted from revelation by the Right-to-Know Law. User home addresses do not appear on county paid bills. Alphabet letters can be substituted for telephone numbers and the numbers then redacted. (814-555-1234 would become ABC) This is common practice in criminal investigation but likely beyond the requirements of the RTK law. If ABC (a judge) and DEF (a District Attorney) have hundreds of telephone texts during a trial or immediately before a trial it could be a suggestion of judicial impropriety. Defense attorneys want to see the data the judiciary do not want them to.

    #7271

    Watchdog7
    Participant

    The saga continues: From the Centre Daily Times, March 24, 2015:

    ” Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller joined other county officials in filing a lawsuit against Centre County on Monday.

    In filings in Centre County Court, Parks Miller is asking for an injunction from the court due to the “wrongful and illegal release” of her emails and phone records, as well as those of members of her office, by figures in county government in violation of the state Right-to-Know Law.

    Parks Miller maintains that county commissioners Steve Dershem and Chris Exarchos, solicitor Louis Glantz and Administrator Tim Boyde conspired with local attorneys Sean McGraw, Bernard Cantorna and the law offices they work for — listed as co-defendants in the case — to release such records without her knowledge so the attorneys could use them in criminal cases.”

    Read more here: http://www.centredaily.com/2015/03/23/4667553/district-attorney-stacy-parks.html

    Too much Sunshine caused sunburn.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 8 months ago by  Watchdog7.
    • This reply was modified 4 years, 8 months ago by  Watchdog7.
    #7277

    Watchdog7
    Participant

    More of the saga — March 26, 2015
    Judge Kistler rescinds order regarding Centre County Right-to-Know Law requests

    “President Judge Thomas King Kistler rescinded his order signed last week regarding Right-to-Know requests involving Centre County courts. The order, issued March 16, was stayed by [Visiting] Huntingdon County Senior Judge Stewart Kurtz last week. [However]It stated that, among other provisions, Right-to-Know requests involving the county judicial system received by county Administrator Tim Boyde and solicitor Louis Glantz should be denied and instead forwarded to the [Centre County] court administrator and that Boyde and the county commissioners should keep [all] communications [telephone] records involving the courts confidential.

    Read the complete story at: http://www.centredaily.com/2015/03/25/4670687/judge-kistler-rescinds-order-regarding.html

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 8 months ago by  Watchdog7.
    #7280
    Kim de Bourbon
    Kim de Bourbon
    Keymaster

    Very interesting! Thanks so much for keeping us up-to-date on this case.

    #7290

    Watchdog7
    Participant

    Are Centre County judges making court unaccountable?

    Watchdog opines that the Centre County Court System Right-to-Know kerfuffle may eventually result in precedent setting changes to the Pennsylvania Sunshine Laws. If not, it should. “A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.” — Thomas Paine. Justin McShane (chairman and CEO of The McShane Firm, of Harrisburg, which, along with attorney T.C. Tanski, is named in Judge Jonathan D. Grine’s lawsuit) elaborates publicly on the issue of the “purloined” telephone records. http://www.centredaily.com/2015/03/28/4676257/their-view-are-centre-county-judges.html
    The citizens await an opportunity to elect a different court and district attorney.

    #7310

    Watchdog7
    Participant

    New motions filed in Centre County lawsuits suggest judiciary spending more time suing one another than attending to business of the citizenry. “[Centre County] Common Pleas Judge Jonathan D. Grine and District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker filed lawsuits against the county over the release of cellphone records by county government through Right-to-Know requests. A hearing in both cases before Huntingdon County Senior Judge Stewart L. Kurtz is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday [April 2, 2015] in the [Centre County] courthouse annex. Both judges argue that the county violated the state Right-to-Know law when officials released the phone records to attorneys who had filed Right-to-Know requests, according to court filings, because the law prohibits the release of records that display partial or total phone numbers.”

    Read more: http://www.centredaily.com/2015/03/31/4680515/new-motions-filed-in-centre-county.html

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 8 months ago by  Watchdog7.
    #7318

    Watchdog7
    Participant

    Update April 8, 2015 — Centre County hires Right-to-Know Law expert. Centre County commissioners unanimously approved a letter of engagement with a Harrisburg-based lawyer Craig Staudenmaier, of Nauman, Smith, Shissler and Hall.

    Read more:http://www.centredaily.com/2015/04/07/4690779/centre-county-hires-lawyer-for.html

    #7329
    Kim de Bourbon
    Kim de Bourbon
    Keymaster

    Looking forward to seeing this case make its way. Staudenmaier (the PaFOIC’s general counsel) is one of the leading legal experts on RTK issues in the state.

    #7331

    Watchdog7
    Participant

    April 11, 2015 — Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller appointed her lawyer Bruce Castor Jr. to be a special assistant district attorney in Centre County. Miller Asked approval of the county salary board after the appointment. Judge Jonathan Grine (also involved in the Right-to-Know issue) administered the oath of office to Castor at his private residence. The oath was administered by Judge Grine before a scheduled hearing on motions filed by attorney Sean McGraw to disqualify DA Miller and her office from hearing certain cases involving an alleged forgery by Miller of a judge’s signature. Read more details at: http://www.centredaily.com/2015/04/10/4695194/da-parks-miller-appoints-her-lawyer.html

    Visiting Clinton County Senior Judge J. Michael Williamson rejects attorneys’ motion to disqualify Centre County DA Parks Miller from 2 cases

    Read more: http://www.centredaily.com/2015/04/10/4695759/judge-rejects-attorneys-motion.html

    Those interested in this case should Google: “Clinton County Senior Judge J. Michael Williamson reprimands”

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by  Watchdog7.
    #7361

    Watchdog7
    Participant

    Update: April 28, 2015, Hearing scheduled in lawsuit filed by Centre County DA Stacy Parks Miller’

    Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller will be in court next month, not in her usual capacity, but as the plaintiff in her lawsuit against county government and two local attorneys. She claims that county officials illegally released phone records to Cantorna and McGraw in response to Right-to-Know requests filed by the attorneys with county government.”

    http://www.centredaily.com/2015/04/27/4721825/hearing-scheduled-in-lawsuit-filed.html

    #7368
    Kim de Bourbon
    Kim de Bourbon
    Keymaster

    Thanks for keeping us updated on this. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds in court…

    #7374

    Watchdog7
    Participant

    Update May 1, 2015, A hearing in the suit is scheduled before Huntingdon County Senior Judge Stewart L. Kurtz for 9 a.m. May 13. Attorneys allege that Centre County District Attorney Parks Miller’s suit seeks to “restrain public criticism of her conduct in office.” Parks Miller is seeking the return of phone records she claims the county illegally released to the two defense attorneys and the destruction of any copies. Two defense attorneys argue that the public has the right to examine and maintain possession of the records, and destroying or returning them would violate the First Amendment. Parks Miller alleges that county commissioners Steve Dershem and Chris Exarchos, Administrator Tim Boyde, and county solicitor Louis Glantz, acted in conspiracy with defense attorneys Cantorna and McGraw to embarrass her and drive her from office. Read more: http://www.centredaily.com/2015/04/30/4727342/bernard-cantorna-sean-mcgraw-make.html

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