Monday, April 21, 2008

Sisyphus & PA Open Records

"Sisyphus, in Greek mythology, was a king punished in Tartarus by being cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down again, and to repeat this throughout eternity."

A recent editorial in the Sentinel warns that a state agency is proposing to use Pennsylvania's new Open Records Law to more difficult to obtain, not less.

A provision covering the hundreds of local district courts across the state to take effect next year is intended to make access to public information more uniform. That means information publicly available in one local court wouldn't be under a blackout in another.

That's where a draft proposal by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts comes in...but apparently not in the way you might expect.

According to the Sentinel:

Court proposal a step back for public access

....The rules also propose giving courts as long as seven weeks before complying with a records request, limiting the number of documents that could be viewed in a day, requiring citizens to put their requests in writing and even restricting records access to certain days or times.

Clearly, this policy was developed strictly from the viewpoint of court personnel and not the public. These rules, if adopted, would be very convenient for them but ignore completely the spirit of open records law — namely, that the people have a right to keep an eye on the people’s business. And it’s not as if these courts have been burdened in the past by records requests or that they have any reason to expect a flood of requests under the new law. They haven’t and they don’t.

Making public a citizen’s arrest, charges, trial and the outcome is a protection for the defendant. In many parts of the world today, it is still possible for someone to be arrested in the dead of night, thrown in prison and never be seen again....

The state court system provides more information and a link for public comment on its website.


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