One of the stranger urban legends to find a home among editorialists in Pennsylvania is the bizarre assertion that Gov. Tom Corbett is personally suing a reporter for submitting a Right-to-Know request for the governor’s emails and schedule.
Nobody’s suing anybody here.
So where does this claim originate? A bit of history is in order. Last year, Associated Press reporter Mark Scolforo submitted a wide-ranging request for all of the governor’s emails as well as his personal calendar and schedule.
The administration complied. Scolforo received the emails and calendar entries, including times, places and the names of those attending meetings.
The documents contained limited redactions of exempt information related to the governor’s personal security, private information such as the personal telephone numbers of third parties and ongoing deliberations.
Scolforo then filed a legal appeal with the state’s Office of Open Records, demanding that we turn over everything he wanted. The motion was captioned “Scolforo v. Office of the Governor.” Note the order of the names there.
After OOR ruled partly for Scolforo and partly for the governor’s office, lawyers took the next step called for in the Right to Know Law and asked the Commonwealth Court for a review. That’s when the courts simply reversed the order of the names to keep track of who was appealing.
As it now stands, the dispute is not even between Scolforo and the Governor’s Office.
The OOR has entered the case because of an argument between it and the Governor’s Office as to what the Right to Know Law says and does not say, as well as the precise authority of the Office of Open Records. It is now an argument between two government agencies.
Nobody is going after Mark Scolforo’s credit, possessions or bank account, as would be the case if he were being sued personally. We’re asking a court to settle a question about what the law means. Scolforo’s name is on the case because he brought it in the first place.
In the last two years, the Corbett administration has received roughly 14,000 Right-to-Know requests, and we have worked hard to respond to them all. Disagreements about what is and isn’t a public record are inevitable. That’s the reason for a legal system, starting with the Office of Open Records and extending to the Commonwealth Court.
Political opponents of the governor will distort facts to their own advantage — that’s no surprise. It’s also why journalists need to make good use of two of the most important tools at their disposal: skepticism and telephones.
But here’s one thing for certain: the Corbett administration is not personally suing a reporter, and we wish people would stop promoting this fiction.
James Schultz is general counsel in the Office of the Governor.