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Right-to-know ruling in favor of the Notebook is now a precedent

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court’s April ruling in favor of the Notebook in a right-to-know case involving School Reform Commission resolutions is now a legal precedent.

Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pelligrini ruled last week in support of a motion filed by the Notebook to “report” the decision, meaning that it will now be treated as a precedent in similar cases in Pennsylvania.

In an April 26 decision, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer upheld a lower court ruling that once the District introduces a resolution before a public meeting of the SRC, it becomes a public record and is accessible under the Right to Know Law.

The case stemmed from September 2009, when the District withdrew — rather than voting on — a set of SRC resolutions after introducing and discussing them in a public meeting. When District staff subsequently declined requests to disclose the resolutions in full, the Notebook appealed and ultimately took the matter to court.

Once again successfully representing the Notebook in filing the motion was David Lapp, an attorney at the Education Law Center, whose services were provided pro bono.

"Winning the initial case helped the Notebook and Philadelphians," Lapp said. "Having it reported helps all Pennsylvania citizens."

Lapp noted that the court ruling speaks to a frequent government response to right-to-know requests: that a document is exempt from disclosure because it is a "draft" or it reflects "internal predecisional deliberations."

"By limiting how broadly agencies can apply those exemptions," Lapp said, "this reported opinion sets a binding precedent that favors public access and ensures greater transparency at all levels of government."

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