Harrisburg Attorney Wins Penn State Salary Case

Nauman Smith’s Craig Staudenmaier represents winning side of Paterno salary case

(Harrisburg, Pa.) – On Friday, August 12, 2005, the Commonwealth Court decided that the public has a Right-to-Know the salary of Pennsylvania State University Head Football Coach Joe Paterno and several other high-ranking school officials. Craig Staudenmaier, an attorney in the Harrisburg law firm Nauman, Smith, Shissler and Hall, represented The Patriot-News of Harrisburg.

In a 3-2 decision, the Commonwealth Court panel decided that the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) correctly decided last year that Jan Murphy, a reporter with The Patriot-News, could see documents showing years of credited service, salary and salary history for Paterno, and three other University employees. Murphy originally made the request in December 2002.

Penn State, Temple, Pittsburgh and Lincoln are considered “state-related” universities – they receive state aid but are not completely state funded. The schools received state aid totaling about $650 million per year in recent years. Employees at the “state-related” schools who elect to join SERS are eligible for SERS benefits, which Staudenmaier says makes their salaries public information.

“The bottom line is, once this information comes into the possession of the State Employee Retirement System, no matter who it is, their salaries are public information,” Staudenmaier said. “There is no difference between Penn State employees who are members of SERS and other state employees.”

The majority vote agreed with Staudenmaier, “Access to this information allows the public to meaningfully evaluate the wisdom and appropriateness of these state appropriations,” wrote Judge Bernard L. McGinley for the majority.

According to court documents, Murphy made a request on December 19, 2002 for records revealing the years of credited service, current salary and salary history for certain members of SERS employed by Penn State, including Paterno; Richard Althouse, University Budget Officer; Rodney Erickson, Executive Vice President and Provost; and Gary Schultz, Senior Vice President of Finance and Business/Treasurer.

“The Patriot-News request was for the employees’ years of service and salary information. This is the exact information needed by SERS to calculate pensions, thus making it a public record,” Staudenmaier said.
According to Staudenmaier, the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Act grants the public access to the salary information for state employees. Penn State argued that the information should not be disclosed because doing so could compromise personal security. The court rejected this argument.

It is still unclear when the records will be produced. The Patriot-News wanted the documents immediately following the August 12 decision. However, Penn State officials said the university will appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and SERS says that with the prospect of an appeal by Penn State, they will not release the requested information.

Craig Staudenmaier, managing partner of Nauman Smith, has represented a variety of local media outlets for more than 20 years. A member of the firm since 1981, he specializes in print and broadcast media cases addressing access issues, subpoena of reporters, privacy issues and defamation claims.

An honors graduate of Washington and Jefferson College, Mr. Staudenmaier received his Juris Doctor degree from The Dickinson School of Law. Mr. Staudenmaier is a lecturer for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute and the Pennsylvania Society of Newspaper Editors.

On the Web: www.courts.state.pa.us/OpPosting/Cwealth/out/2633CD04_8-12-05.pdf

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