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Documents Explaining $145 Million Paycheck from Commonwealth Public Funds Not Discloseable

Pennsylvania Senators Gerald Lavalle and Richard Kasunic (Senators) appealed a court's ruling denying them access to a report involving disbursement of public funds. The funds were used to settle an action against the Commonwealth for breech of contract. The Senators sought access to the report as the funds were "public records." The court's denial was affirmed.

The action was brought by Envirotest Partners (Envirotest) after the Commonwealth discontinued a government-contracted emissions testing program. The report was prepared by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and revealed the disbursement of over $145 million to Envirotest. The Senators' request for access to the documents was ignored and they informed the Office of General Counsel (OGC) of their intent to pursue official proceedings for disclosure under the Right to Know Act (Act). The OGC denied them access, claiming that the report was not an audit, was used to assist the defense and assessment of the action, and thus was exempt from disclosure as "work product" and also as an "investigation." The Commonwealth court affirmed the denial of access to the report and the Senators appealed.

The Second Division of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the documents were not "public records" under the Act and that the Senators in any event had no greater right to them than any other citizen. It was determined that the records were not an essential component of the decision to pay Envirotest and that Commonwealth agencies bear an obligation by law to pay rightful, contractual debts. The court further held that there was no mandatory requirement for a government contractor to submit its payroll records to the public body. See: Lavalle v. Office of General Counsel of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 564 Pa. 482, 769 A.2d 449 (Pa. 2001).

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Related legal case

Lavalle v. Office of General Counsel of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania