Chambersburg school district challenging Right-To-Know requests

June 11, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH |

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — The Chambersburg Area School District is challenging a pair of requests submitted under Pennsylvania’s Right-To-Know law.

The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records issued determinations that Carlisle, Pa., resident Jason Reed and Chambersburg resident Maria Dorsey are entitled to files that had been denied by the school district. Now, the school district is appealing those determinations to Franklin County (Pa.) Court of Common Pleas Judge Richard Walsh.

In court documents, the school district argues the requested records are privileged attorney-client communications and concern attorney work product.

A status conference hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

The records in question relate to an after-school hip-hop club and REACHUSA Inc., court documents state.

One letter included as a court exhibit states Reed feels he is due $22,480 for services and use of licensed intellectual property. Another letter says 150 student performance uniforms are affected.

The open records requests from Reed and Dorsey were among 17 of the same nature, the school district states in court documents.

Pennsylvania’s Right-To-Know Law became fully effective Jan. 1, 2009. One of its key components is the presumption that a record is open, so a government agency has the burden to prove why a record is not available to the public.

“Records in possession of a local agency are presumed public unless exempt under the Right-To-Know Law or other law, or protected by a privilege, judicial order or decree,” an appeals officer from the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records wrote in the office’s determination.

Four elements comprise attorney-client privilege for government records in Pennsylvania. Those involve the definition of a client, an attorney being a bar member, a client seeking legal services and the privilege not being waived by the client.

“An agency may not rely on a bald assertion that the attorney-client privilege applies; instead, the agency must prove that all four elements are met,” the open records office’s determination states.

“In the present case, the district has merely provided a blanket statement that all withheld records are protected by the attorney-client privilege,” the determination states.

Reed’s right-to-know request is dated Dec. 9, 2011, although it refers to an earlier request. Dorsey’s is dated July 25, 2011.

In each case, the open-records office submitted a letter saying it stands by its determination and will not appear in court.

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