Documents in the Dark

When allegations of sexual misconduct by Pennsylvania state troopers came to the attention of The Philadelphia Daily News, the paper attempted to gain access to the police internal investigatory reports. Its requests were denied.

The reason cited: privacy.Yet even after a lawsuit, Haber v. Evans, the Daily News still only won redacted versions.Judge Cynthia M. Rufe of the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia ruled that the documents concerning the state troopers were not public under Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Act because they were covered by an exemption for internal agency investigations. She looked at the state's open records law in determining whether to open the records in the case. Rufe did grant access to redacted versions of the reports as court records, balancing the strong presumption of access against "legitimate privacy concerns.

"The question of access to information about sexual harassment investigations brings into conflict the interests of individual privacy and government accountability to the public. Details of sexual harassment can be embarrassing and stigmatizing, not only for an alleged harasser and the public agency he or she works for, but also for the victims and witnesses who must relate the details of an often-humiliating experience. However, the public has an interest in knowing about the misbehavior and character of its public officials -- highlighted by the scandals surrounding former President Bill Clinton, Paula Jones and Monica Lewinski -- as well as how government agencies handle allegations of wrongdoing by public employees. CLICK FOR MORE

Nicki Egan:
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