Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas Judge David Ashworth has requested that the Commonwealth Court deny Mike Miller’s appeal related to the copying of public records.
Following the 2022 primary election, Miller requested access to inspect Lancaster County’s mail-in ballots and accompanying envelopes. Lancaster County officials responded to Miller’s original request, denying him access to view the ballots but allowing him to view the envelopes with redacted signatures. Miller appealed that decision to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (OOR), which ruled that the ballots and envelopes are public records and ordered the County to provide access according to law within 30 days.
The Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law of 2008 dictates that public records, unless otherwise provided by law, “shall be accessible for inspection and duplication in accordance with this act.”
In response to the OOR’s order, Jacqueline Pfursich, the Lancaster County solicitor, agreed to make the public records available to Miller, but with several added restrictions, including that “no photography or video shall be permitted” and “one person shall inspect at a time.”
Another restriction by Pfursich declared that “no writing implement shall be permitted near the records” and notes must be taken “on the opposite side of the room.”
Miller filed a lawsuit in response to those restrictions, contending that such restrictions violate the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL), especially the law’s allowance for the “duplication” of public records.
In the lawsuit, Miller demanded the court to “provide declaratory judgment with respect to the rights of the parties to this action,” for the county “to avail all the records to Mike for inspection and copying” and for the county to “avail its high-speed scanner for the purpose of making digital copies for Mike, in Mike’s presence.”
The Court dismissed Miller’s lawsuit, but Miller has appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
In an Opinion filed Aug. 7 requesting the higher court to deny Miller’s appeal, Ashworth rejected Miller’s contention that the restrictions put in place by the County prevent him from duplicating the records.
Ashworth affirmed that the law requires public records to be “accessible for inspection and duplication,” but still sided with the County.
“Therefore, pursuant to RTKL, Appellant [Miller] may not be prohibited from making copies of the records; however, the RTKL does not say that Appellee [the County] is required to provide Appellant with a means to do so,” Ashworth wrote. “Likewise, Appellee is not required to allow Appellant to take photos or record videos of the records, which Appellee has specifically prohibited. There is nothing preventing Appellant from bringing his own means of duplicating the records.”
Miller told The Lancaster Patriot that he is “confident that the Court will provide a ruling that will clarify and protect the public’s basic and essential right to obtain public records.”
Miller had also filed criminal complaints to the Lancaster County District Attorney against two County employees for “abus[ing] the authority of their office to deny me lawful access to public records.” The District Attorney disapproved the complaints for “lack of Prosecutorial Merit” and because the “allegations are the subject of pending civil litigation.”