Paper Wins Ruling In Bid For Philly Police Records
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – The Philadelphia Daily News won a court decision Friday in its quest to obtain copies of police grievance arbitration awards from the city.
A Commonwealth Court panel reversed a Philadelphia judge’s injunction that has prevented city officials from turning over the records to reporter Wendy Ruderman. The judges said the union did not show a clear right to relief and a reasonable likelihood it would prevail on the merits.
The city had planned to release redacted copies of 187 arbitration decisions going back to 2005 until a judge granted the injunction at the request of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 in September 2009.
The ruling rejected the union’s argument that disclosure of final awards will inevitably result in making public information such as officers’ home addresses, their Social Security numbers, details about their families or police staffing. The union had argued that disclosure could threaten the safety or security of its members and their families.
“The final award or order of the arbitrator is usually separated from the opinion, either on its own page or in a stand-alone paragraph,’’ wrote Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt. “There may be cases where that boundary is blurred, or factual information is included in the legal conclusions and relief awarded. Nevertheless, (the) union does not explain why the city will be unable or unwilling to redact protected or sensitive information.’’
The court said the union’s only witness testified in general terms that officers and their families are frequently threatened, and access to the arbitration awards will put their safety and privacy at risk.
“This testimony fell far short of showing a substantial and demonstrable risk of physical harm to even one individual,’’ Leavitt wrote. “More than mere conjecture is needed.’’
Daily News City Editor Gar Joseph called it a victory for the public’s right to know.
“The Daily News never had any intention of revealing personal information about police officers or their families,’’ Joseph said. “But we strongly believe citizens have the right to know about alleged wrongdoing by police officers, the disciplinary action taken against them and the extent to which that disciplinary action is reversed by the arbitration process.’’
Philadelphia city senior appeals lawyer Eleanor N. Ewing said the decision clears the way for the city to release the documents.
“I saw an e-mail this afternoon renewing the request from the Daily News, so I think probably we will begin to comply with it, at least starting to work on compliance, on Monday,’’ Ewing said. “We need to review it and make any appropriate redaction.’’
The union’s lawyer, Marc Lawrence Gelman, said no appeal is planned. He declined to comment further.