Governor May Not Remove Executive Director of Office of Open Records Without Cause

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has affirmed a decision by the Commonwealth Court that reinstated Eric Arneson as the Executive Director of the Office of Open Records.   The Supreme Court agreed that the OOR is an independent body and that the Executive Director is insulated from the Governor’s power to remove appointees at will.

Justice Baer, joined by Chief Justice Saylor and Justice Eakin, adopted the opinion written by the majority of the Commonwealth Court, and further explained:

It is undisputed that the OOR, with its Executive Director at the helm, is a unique administrative agency tasked with applying the standards established in the RTKL and making decisions about whether government agencies and officials, including the executive branch and the office of the Governor, have acted timely, carried their burden of establishing why a record is not subject to public access, as well as myriad other issues. We view the Commonwealth Court’s analysis in this case to rest on the OOR’s status as a unique, independent agency charged with the delicate task of applying the RTKL, and the need to insulate the OOR and its Executive Director from the potential for coercive influence from a Governor to accomplish the purpose of the RTKL.2 Just as the OOR is inherently sui generis, the Commonwealth Court’s analysis is narrow and unique to the OOR and its Executive Director.

2 We do not suggest this Governor would attempt such coercion. We write only to interpret legislative intent, which will remain in effect absent a legislative response or a future court’s reinterpretation of today’s holding.

Slip Opinion, pp. 4-5.

Justice Todd dissented, as she would have adopted the dissenting opinion written by President Judge Pellegrini.   Justice Stevens did not participate.   For more background information, see Nauman Smith’s previous analysis of the Commonwealth Court’s opinion.

Disclaimer:  This blog is maintained by the members of Nauman Smith’s Media and Right-to-Know Law practice group.  The members of this practice group represent both: 1) media entities, individuals and corporations seeking access to public records, and 2) local municipalities seeking to comply with the law.  THIS BLOG IS NOT MEANT TO BE USED AS LEGAL ADVICE.  The purpose of this blog is to provide educational material for individuals interested in Pennsylvania’s open records law, commonly referred to as the “Right-to-Know Law” or “RTKL”.  The opinions expressed by the individual members of the practice group are solely their own, and do not reflect the opinions of Nauman, Smith, Shissler & Hall, LLP, or the practice group as a whole.

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