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

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    Update May 2, 2015, Threat of protests cancels Law Day at Centre County Courthouse “According to Sheriff Denny Nau, rumors of a protest began circulating and appearing on Facebook. The protests allegedly were going to begin at the Centre County Correctional Facility before moving down the road to District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker’s office and possibly to the courthouse.” “Student safety was behind the decision to pull out, State College Area School District spokesman Chris Rosenblum said [Rosenblum is also a local newspaper reporter serving as press secretary for the district superintendent]. The safest approach to a potentially dangerous situation was not to participate [according to Rosenblum].” Watchdog says, “hogwash.” Hundreds of protests, even PSU-related riots, about lots of things in Centre County over many years and not once a firearms threat. Watchdog thinks it is the expected sharp questions about judicial conduct, not firearms, that are the threat. Authorities must not want students exposed to strong questions and messages. This is without precedent in Centre County.

    Read more: http://www.centredaily.com/2015/05/01/4728819/threat-of-protests-cancels-law.html

    On to top of all that, within Centre County: President Judge Kistler was “unnominated” for a position on the state supreme court. Judge John Leete, of Potter County, is hearing the Paterno estate’s lawsuit against the NCAA, President Mark Emmert, former executive committee chairman Ed Ray and Penn State. Judge William Morgan, of Warren and Forest counties, is presiding over the dissolution of assets for The Second Mile, the charity Sandusky started for at-risk youth, from which he pulled victims. Judge Thomas Gavin, of Chester County, was brought in for former assistant football coach Mike McQueary’s whistleblower lawsuit against the university. Judge John Cleland, of McKean County, was just in Centre County Court again last week setting a schedule for Sandusky’s latest appeal. Clinton County Judge J. Michael Williamson is temporarily hearing Centre County cases. Who is Judge Williamson? If you search the record for this judge, many in Centre County, Watchdog opines, would not vote for him. He needs a hard look.

    Try explaining to school students how all that works.




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


    Update and decision May 8, 2015, Judge rules law firms can use [telephone toll record] documents; county was wrong to release them under Right-to-Know Law “The order handed down by Huntingdon County Senior Judge Stewart L. Kurtz Thursday favored the position of [Centre County] Common Pleas Judge Jonathan Grine and District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker. The two argued that county government violated the law and also their rights to privacy when they released phone records to defense attorneys for use in legal filings in response to Right-to-Know requests filed by the lawyers.”

    “Grine asked that the the firm be ordered to destroy the records released to them by the county and a March injunction prevented Tanski from using the records in court. Kurtz ordered that injunction vacated Wednesday, freeing the Harrisburg attorneys to keep and use the records because ordering them destroyed would violate the First Amendment.”

    Read the complete article at: http://www.centredaily.com/2015/05/08/4738939/judge-rules-law-firms-can-use.html

    Watchdog comments: While this decision may resolve an issue about the Right-to-Know law and the judiciary, the fundamental issue pertaining to alleged subrosa communication between the Centre County District Attorney and a Centre County Judge (return to first posting in this article for details) remains unresolved.

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


    Update May 13, 2015. Centre County commissioners discuss changes to cellphone policy ahead of Parks Miller hearing “[Centre County Commissioner] Exarchos said the county should take the time to consider changes to the county phone policy after the suits because of liability issues.”

    “I feel like a sandwich here,” he said. “On one hand, we have the people’s right to know, we’ve got people saying there’s right to privacy and we’re caught in the middle. If we don’t get sued by one side, we’ll certainly get sued by another side.”

    “The county has issued 213 cellphones. About 120 of those see daily use and another 90 are used by the elections department about twice a year, during primary and general elections, Boyde said. The county cellphone plan costs more than $100,000 a year, Exarchos said.”

    “Exarchos recommended amending the policy to exclude non-county employees, which would exclude members of the judiciary, like judges and the court administrator, who are state employees. [Centre County Administrator] Boyde said that not all counties offer phones or service to state employees through a county plan.”

    “He also suggested reviewing the need for every county-issued cellphone, and that every employee with a phone be required to sign a contract to be drawn up by the solicitor that would stipulate that the employee understands that county phones are for work-related reasons only, there is no expectation to a right to privacy and phone use is subject to disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law.”


    And there is this: Centre County District Attorney Parks Miller enters more filings ahead of hearing


    Watchdog opines, despite all the smoke, the fire is ignored. When public funds are used to pay for communication devices used by public employees and intended for public business is the public entitled to know about illegal use of court procedure and/or abuse of telephone privilege? What is the difference between county owned telephone and county owned credit card records? Some of this could have been prevented by more definitive county terms of use, but not all.



    Update May 14, 2015, Judge sides with Parks Miller in Right-to-Know ruling
    “Huntingdon County Senior Judge Stewart L. Kurtz, who is also handling suits filed against the [Centre] county by Court of Common Pleas Judge Jonathan D. Grine and District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker, granted a portion of the injunction sought by [Centre County District Attorney] Parks Miller and ordered the county to not respond to Right-to-Know requests involving judicial records relating to Parks Miller and her office. Instead, such requests should be forwarded to Parks Miller and the Right-to-Know officer for her office, who should respond accordingly, Kurtz said.”

    “[Centre] County attorney Mary Lou Maierhofer asked [Centre County President Judge] Kistler if he had ever had a conversation with Judge Bradley P. Lunsford about texting on the bench. Before Kistler could answer, Parks Miller’s attorney, Bruce Castor, objected on the grounds of relevance. Maierhofer said it was relevant because of conspiracy allegations made by Parks Miller. Kurtz sustained the objection.”

    “Other aspects of Parks Miller’s complaint, like whether the county violated the Criminal History Records Information Act, would be addressed after the appeals process, Kurtz said.”

    “In closing, Kurtz said both sides may be best served by having an outside mediator handle the matters instead of the court, adding that it would be cheaper and take less time.”

    Read more: http://www.centredaily.com/2015/05/13/4746852/judge-sides-with-parks-miller.html#storylink=cpy



    Update May 20, 2015, Centre County weighs not providing phones to state employees.

    Here is one solution to the RTK controversy. No records, no controversy.

    “Centre County Commissioner Chairman Steve Dershem said it’s a very simple concept — if the state feels [judicial employees such as judges and district attorneys] should have cellphones, the state should provide them [not the county]…. ” [County judges are state employees.]

    “[Commissioner] Exarchos said, … if the individual was not a county employee subject to the county’s electronic communication policy, the county shouldn’t provide cellphone coverage.”

    Read more here: http://www.centredaily.com/2015/05/19/4756073/centre-county-weighs-not-providing.html#storylink=cpy

    Read more: http://www.centredaily.com/2015/05/19/4756073/centre-county-weighs-not-providing.html#storylink=cpy

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 6 months ago by  Watchdog7.


    Another update May 20, 2015. Commissioners to appeal ruling, say Right-to-Know law vague, untested

    “The decision to appeal came after discussions between commissioners and the county solicitor, Vice Chairman Chris Exarchos said, saying the law is still new and hasn’t been completely tested. All we’re trying to do is comply with the law as the legal people interpret it for us,” he said. Judge Kurtz made an interpretation. Up to that point, we all assumed we were complying with the law.”

    “Responding to a statement that the commissioners broke the law and owe an apology to the law enforcement community by Parks Miller, Exarchos said the statement is incorrect. The law is ambiguous, he said, and the commissioners complied with the best legal advice to what the law said. Once Judge Kurtz interpreted the law, it doesn’t mean we broke it,” he said. “It’s just Kurtz’s opinion how he interprets it. It may or may not stand on appeal.”

    Read more: http://www.centredaily.com/2015/05/19/4756165/commissioners-to-appeal-ruling.html

    Watchdog points out that the county commissioners’ (election board) also have difficulty interpreting the law as it pertains to referendum and the prohibition of the State College Area School District using public funds to advocate in favor of a referendum.



    Update May 27, 2015 For those readers who are getting lost among the 21 updates. The Centre Daily Times today published a summary of the situation. http://www.centredaily.com/2015/05/26/4765588/affidavit-points-to-texting-between.html



    Update June 10, 2015, here we go again. District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller says Centre County in contempt of court

    “[Centre County District Attorney Parks Miller] explains that exhibits to the filing [for telephone records for county owned cell telephones] show that [County Administrator] Boyde received the request from David Crowley, chief public defender, on May 8. [Huntingdon County Senior Judge] Kurtz issued the order in Parks Miller’s case on May 13, and Boyde denied the request on May 18. Boyde named Kurtz’s order as the reason for the denial in a response to Crowley, according to court documents.”

    “Crowley’s request, which asked for records of communication between Parks Miller and [Centre County]Judge Bradley P. Lunsford in eight cases handled by Lunsford, has since been appealed [presumably by Crowly] to the state Office of Open Records. Castor [Parks Miller’s attorney] wrote that Parks Miller did not learn of the request until the appeal had been sent.”

    “County attorneys are appealing Kurtz’s rulings in each case [also Judge Jonathan D. Grine and District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker] to the state Commonwealth Court.”


    Watchdog opines, Pennsylvania needs provision for special elections in situations like this.



    Update June 13, 2015, Centre County wants jurist from elsewhere to hear contempt of court request from Parks Miller “The county [commissioner] motion claims that the Court of Common Pleas no longer has jurisdiction in the lawsuit filed against them by [district attorney] Parks Miller because of appeals entered by the county to the Commonwealth Court.”


    Watchdog opines, perhaps this will eventually reach the The International Court of Justice at the Hague.



    Update June 18, 2015 Centre Centre County Commissioner Chris Exarchos blasts ‘frivolous’ contempt request from DA Stacy Parks Miller Is there no end to this nitwittery?




    Update June 23, 2015 Centre County Responds to District Attorney Parks Miller Contempt Motion




    June 24, 2015 Attorney Hired by Centre County Says County is Following Rules on Right-to-Know

    This is a good summary assessment of the issue to date:


    And then there is this:

    Judge Lunsford announces retention campaign




    Update June 30, 2015 This current summary is worth a read: “Huntingdon County [Judge] defends rulings in Centre County Right to Know cases “The out-of-county judge [Kurtz] hearing lawsuits brought against Centre County government regarding Right-to-Know requests responded to county attorneys appealing an order handed down last month that prohibits county officials from responding to requests involving the judiciary.” and here is a big jump:”Kurtz ruled in the order [citing state law and Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini’s opinion in a 2010 Commonwealth Court case] that the responses constituted violations of the state Right-to-Know Act and the separation of powers doctrine of the state and federal constitutions.” Many of the parties will be in the same room for a hearing on that matter before Kurtz on July 14 in the Centre County Courthouse Annex in Bellefonte.




    New from Unhappy Valley, July 1, 2015, Parks Miller attorney opposes Centre County response to ruling on judicial Right-to-Know requests
    “County attorneys made a filing last month stating that the county is entitled to an “automatic supersedeas” — or an order suspending a court from executing a ruling — when they appealed an order from Huntingdon County Senior Judge Stewart L. Kurtz prohibiting county officials from responding to Right-to-Know requests regarding the county judiciary to the state Commonwealth Court, including Parks Miller and her office. If the supersedeas would take effect, the county would be able to continue responding to Right-to-Know requests regarding judicial officials, as it did before the injunction was ordered, until appeals are decided.” http://www.centredaily.com/2015/06/30/4817176/parks-miller-attorney-opposes.html

    “Bruce Castor Jr., Parks Miller’s attorney, argued in the Tuesday filing that the supersedeas would defeat the purpose of the preliminary injunction. Should the injunction be vacated through a lengthy appeals process that could stretch to the state and federal supreme courts, Castor wrote that his client would suffer irreparable harm to her reputation should the county be permitted to fill requests for her phone records”

    Watchdog opines, it is hard to justify retention elections for judges but this experience adds cause to a short list. One judge, reportedly, has hired a retention consultant and publicist for the November election.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 5 months ago by  Watchdog7.


    Lost during all the rigmarole about public right-to-know telephone records is one of the cases that led to the turmoil. Man pleads guilty to indecently assaulting sleeping woman “State College police arrested Justin Blake, 22, of Newburg, Md., last March on felony burglary, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, criminal trespass and two indecent assault charges. Investigators accused Blake of entering the woman’s unlocked apartment, getting in bed with her and performing sex acts on her when she was asleep. Blake’s case is involved in the ongoing courthouse controversy involving Centre County government, courthouse officials and the state Right-to-Know law.”
    “Sean McGraw, Blake’s attorney, filed a motion in March asking Williamson to dismiss the charges against Blake because he argued alleged ex parte communications between Parks Miller, former Assistant District Attorney Nathan Boob, District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker and Judge Bradley P. Lunsford on days of proceedings involving Blake presented a “grave appearance of bias.” Read more at: http://www.centredaily.com/2015/07/16/4838121/man-pleads-guilty-to-indecently.html

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