Court Widens Release Of PA Senate Legal Bills
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – A Pennsylvania appeals court has ruled the state Senate should not have redacted the names of clients from legal bills it releases to the public.
Commonwealth Court said Thursday that the Senate was wrong to withhold the names and general descriptions of legal services when it provided the records to a reporter from The Associated Press.
The AP sought bills, contracts and payment records going back to the start of 2009 for any outside lawyer representing former Senate Democratic Leader Bob Mellow of Lackawanna County, and for Senate Democratic employees and members.
The Senate disclosed contracts and legal bills in August 2010, but with some information blacked out, arguing that the redactions were a matter of attorneyclient privilege.
Senate lawyer Matthew Haverstick said Friday a decision on a further appeal to the state Supreme Court had not been made.
AP lawyer Gayle Sproul called the ruling a victory for the news cooperative and for the wider public.
She said it was the first time in modern legal history that a Pennsylvania appeals court has said client identities are not privileged, and the first time a state appeals court has applied the Rightto Know Law to records in the hands of the Legislature.
Sproul said the ruling was also important because the court rejected the Senate's blanket redactions in favor of a line-by-line analysis performed by a senior judge.