Court: School employees’ addresses not public record

A Commonwealth Court judge ruled Tuesday that addresses of public school employees are not public record and can not be released “until further order of this court.” The state open records office’s Web site describes the ruling as a “temporary court order” and has a link to the court’s decision.

I’m having trouble finding the case from which this appeal arose but will see if I can track it down. (UPDATE: See Kim de Bourbon’s comment on this post; plus read AP story here.) On the court order, the Pennsylvania State Education Association is the petitioner and the state, the Department of Community and Economic Development and the open records office are the respondents.

Terry Mutchler, head of the open records office, released a statement that said, “The Office of Open Records will certainly honor Judge Friedman’s ruling while we
consider our legal strategy. Our mission is to apply this law fairly and evenly.
While I, too, have expressed concerns about the release of home addresses of all
public employees, not just teachers, the Legislature made abundantly clear that
the only addresses protected from release are those of a judge, law enforcement
officer or a minor. We look forward to further guidance from the Commonwealth Court
when it issues its full opinion on the release of home addresses.”

About Scott Blanchard

Sunday editor at the York (Pa.) Daily Record/Sunday News. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.
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One Response to Court: School employees’ addresses not public record

  1. Scott, I don’t think this order from the Commonwealth Court is based on an appeal to an Office of Open Records decision.
    It appears to be a direct petition to the court on the question of whether or not the home addresses of public school employees must be released to the public.
    The ruling is simply a temporary “stay” to the release of these addresses, pending the court scheduling a hearing on the Pa. State Education Association’s petition.
    It will be interesting to see what comes of this, as two things about this petition are potentially troubling:
    First of all, no matter if you agree with the provisions of the new Right to Know Law or not, the law is the law. The Legislature specifically debated this issue of home addresses (and dates of births) being a matter of public record, and specifically did NOT include them in their list of personal information items that could be withheld.
    The courts are supposed to interpret the law — not make it. I can’t see that there is any room in the language of the law for the court to interpret it to mean that home addresses may be withheld.
    (Except — again, very specifically, the home addresses of law enforcement officers, judges and minors. If the law permitted all home addresses to be withheld, there would have been no need to specifically mention these three types of addresses as being exceptions.)
    So, if the court should come out and say that home addresses of public school employees MAY be withheld as a matter of course, then they would be, in effect, rewriting the law, not just interpreting it. And that’s not the court’s job.
    The other troubling thing is that the court appears willing to allow the PSEA to circumvent the appeals process set up by the law. The way it’s supposed to work is that an agency — if it disagrees with the Office of Open Records’ ruling in a case — can then take the case to court and argue for a different outcome.
    Here we have an agency going directly to the court, naming the state, the OOR and the DCED (the OOR’s parent agency) as defendants.

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