“The system will likely be broadly tested after January,” Attorney Craig J. Staudenmaier, Esq., said.
(Harrisburg, Pa.) — Government at every level in Pennsylvania can anticipate an increase in requests for information from a variety of sources under the newly enacted Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law, according to prominent RTK Attorney Craig J. Staudenmaier, who chaired a panel discussion on the subject at the 2008 Freedom of Information Summit in Philadelphia last week.The FOI Summit, sponsored by The National Freedom of Information Coalition and The Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition, focused on a variety of Right-to-Know issues of national and statewide concern during its two day session.
Based on Illinois information presented at the Summit, we can expect about 85 percent of “Right-to-Know” requests for public information to come from individual Pennsylvania citizens,” Staudenmaier said. “And that’s exactly how our democratic system of government was designed to work. The whole point is that the citizen can easily gain access to information to better understand how his or her government functions.”
Staudenmaier said the next largest category of requests will likely come from public officials, followed by requests for information coming from Pennsylvania media. “At least this has been the case in Illinois, which is a good bellwether state system for comparison,” he said.Staudenmaier noted that Terry Mutchler, recently appointed Executive Director of Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records, was the state Public Access Counselor in Illinois. “Ms. Mutchler is very experienced in open records law, and as a lawyer and former journalist will bring balance to the consideration of issues which will come before her office. “Staudenmaier said that the Office of Open Records in Harrisburg will become the nexus for efficiency as the Right-to-Know system unfolds in Pennsylvania. “The office is designed to set policies for state and local government agencies, and coordinate disputes between citizens and government officials over what should or should not be released,” he said. “So the Office of Open Records will serve an essential role in helping educate the public to better understand how their government operates.”
Addressing the issue of media access, Staudenmaier said that journalist access remains fundamental to the citizen’s Right-to-Know, and he pointed to media coverage of national health care-related issues as an example of how limited agency access also limits public information.
“More than two-thirds of health care reporters recently surveyed said they have had stories held up, or left unpublished, because the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration did not respond to FOIA requests within the required 20 days called for in the federal Freedom of Information Act,” he said. “This restricts the quality and quantity of information and media coverage across an array of important public issues.”
Staudenmaier added, “We don’t anticipate this kind of situation in Pennsylvania, of course, it’s simply one indication of how public access to information can become murky if government agencies are not responsive. The new Office of Open Records will keep a watchful eye on local and state agency response times and insure timely and efficient access to public records.”
Staudenmaier is chair of the Nauman, Smith, Shissler & Hall RTK Practice Group, and his practice is concentrated in the areas of state and federal litigation and media law where he routinely represents the print and broadcast media, businesses and private individuals in public records and open meetings matters as well as subpoena of reporters, privacy, and defamation claims.
Founded in 1871, Nauman, Smith, Shissler & Hall, LLP, is the oldest law firm in continuous existence in Harrisburg. For further information on this subject or about the firm’s RTK Practice Group, visit the Nauman Smith Web site at www.nssh.com/rtk, or contact Craig J. Staudenmaier, Esq., at 717.236.3010.
Mr. Staudenmaier is available for comment. He has appeared before numerous trial courts and administrative agencies on such issues and has successfully argued public records issues before the Commonwealth and Supreme Courts of Pennsylvania, including as lead counsel for the media entities in the Penn State University/Paterno and PHEAA open records cases. As an experienced trial lawyer, he has tried numerous cases to verdict in favor of his clients in both the state and federal courts. He is also general counsel to the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition.
Mr. Staudenmaier moderated the panel *FOI Reform Efforts: Rewriting your state’s laws* at the recent 2008 Freedom of Information Summit in Philadelphia. For more information please visit the NFOIC website.