Judges Opinions Public Notices, — December 27, 2021 21:57 — 0 Comments

Public Notices, December 29, 2021

Volume 59, No. 22

 

PUBLIC NOTICES

DECEDENTS’ ESTATES

ORPHANS’ COURT DIVISION NOTICES

ARTICLES OF INCORPORATION

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Charles Hoyer, v. County of Lebanon

 

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that Letters Testamentary or of Administration have been granted in the following estates. All persons indebted to the said estate are required to make payment, and those having claims or demands to present the same without delay to the administrators or executors named.

 

FIRST PUBLICATION

 

ESTATE OF NORMAN C. SATTIZAHN a/k/a NORMAN CHARLES SATTIZAHN, late of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters Testamentary have been granted to the undersigned Executor.

 

Norman L. Sattizahn, Executor

 

Anthony J. Fitzgibbons, Esquire

279 North Zinn’s Mill Road

Lebanon, PA 17042

717-279-8313

 

ESTATE OF ROBERT L. WEAVER, SR., late of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters Testamentary have been granted to the undersigned Executrix.

 

Robert L. Weaver, Jr., Executrix

 

George E. Christianson, Esquire

Christianson Meyer

411 Chestnut Street

Lebanon, PA 17042

 

ESTATE OF JEANETTE R. ADEY, late of Palmyra Borough, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters Testamentary have been granted to the undersigned Co-Executors.

 

Sandra L. Sudbury, Co-Executor

855 Bachman Rd

Annville, PA 17003

 

Michael Garrison, Co-Executor

380 Snow Drive

Lebanon, PA 17046

 

Scott L. Grenoble, Esquire

Buzgon Davis Law Offices

P.O. Box 49

525 South Eighth Street

Lebanon, PA 17042

 

ESTATE OF DOROTHY ODEL ELMER BROWN a/k/a DOROTHY BROWN, late of North Cornwall Township, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters Testamentary have been granted to the undersigned Executrix.

 

Carol Wilson, Executrix

1443 Louser Road

Annville, PA 17003

 

Scott L. Grenoble, Esquire

Buzgon Davis Law Offices

P.O. Box 49

525 South Eighth Street

Lebanon, PA 17042

 

ESTATE OF ZACHARY S. LAUDERMAN, late of Bethel Township, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters of Administration have been granted to the undersigned Co-Administrators.

 

Thomas Lauderman, Jr., Co-Administrator

110 Twin Creek Dr.

Jonestown, PA 17038

 

Valerie J. Zimmerman, Co-Administrator

50 N 9th St. #201

Lebanon, PA 17042

 

Bret M. Wiest, Esquire

Buzgon Davis Law Offices

P.O. Box 49

525 South Eighth Street

Lebanon, PA 17042

 

ESTATE OF CHARLES E. KOHR, late of Jackson Township, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters of Administration have been granted to the undersigned Administratrix.

 

Susan M. Gibson, Administratrix

310 Ramblewood Lane

Lebanon, PA 17042

 

Timothy T. Engler, Esquire

Steiner & Sandoe, Attorneys

36 West Main Avenue,

Myerstown, PA 17067

 

SECOND PUBLICATION

 

ESTATE OF JON E. KEENER a/k/a JON ERIK KEENER, late of Cleona Borough, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters Testamentary have been granted to the undersigned Executrix.

 

Carole Gingrich, Executrix

 

Gerald J. Brinser, Esquire

  1. O. Box 323

Palmyra, PA 17078

 

ESTATE OF AUDRIE A UNDERKOFFLER, late of Palmyra Borough, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters Testamentary have been granted to the undersigned Executrix.

 

Carol Phillips, Executrix

 

Gerald J. Brinser, Esquire

  1. O. Box 323

Palmyra, PA 17078

 

ESTATE OF DEBRA D. PIENTOWSKI, late of the City of Lebanon, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters of Administration have been granted to the undersigned Co-Administrators.

 

Daniel A. Mack, Administrator

 

Amanda L. Voshell, Administrator

 

Caleb J. Zimmerman, Esquire

Zimmerman Law Office

466 Jonestown Road

Jonestown, PA 17038

 

ESTATE OF JAMES J. HALEY, JR., late of Palmyra Borough, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters of Administration have been granted to the undersigned Administratrix.

 

Judith Nigro, Administratrix

250 Cedar Place

Wayne, PA 19087

 

Edmund J. Campbell, Esquire

Campbell Rocco Law

2701 Renaissance Boulevard, Fourth Floor

King of Prussia, PA 19406

 

ESTATE OF VIRGINIA E. SARABOK, late of Palmyra Borough, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters Testamentary have been granted to the undersigned Executrix.

 

Virginia A. Sarabok, Executrix

 

Steven D. W. Miller, Esq., CELA

Miller Law Firm PC

718 Poplar Street, Suite 1

Lebanon, PA 17042               

 

ESTATE OF EDNA I. TYSON, late of East Hanover Township, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters Testamentary have been granted to the undersigned Executrix.

 

Linda K. Spayde, Executrix

 

Gerald J. Brinser, Esquire

P.O. Box 323

Palmyra, PA 17078

 

ESTATE OF HAROLD L. MULL late of Bethel Township, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters Testamentary have been granted to the undersigned Co-Executors.

 

Kenneth E. Mull, Co-Executor

55 Mull Lane

Lebanon, PA 17046

 

Ruth Ann Funck, Co-Executor

425 Gravel Hill Road

Palmyra, PA 17078

 

Kenneth C. Sandoe, Esquire

Steiner & Sandoe, Attorneys

36 West Main Avenue

Myerstown, PA 17067

 

ESTATE OF DOUGLAS JAY MEYER, late of North Annville Township, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters of Administration have been granted to the undersigned Administrator.

 

Larry M. Meyer, Administrator

 

Reilly Wolfson Law Office

1601 Cornwall Road

Lebanon, PA 17042

 

THIRD PUBLICATION

 

ESTATE OF DOMINIC J. PASQUINI a/k/a DOMENICK JOHN PASQUINI, late of South Londonderry Township, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters Testamentary have been granted to the undersigned Executor.

 

Eric Stephen Pasquini, Executor

 

Heather D. Royer, Esquire

Johnson, Duffie, Stewart & Weidner, P.C.

301 Market Street, P.O. Box 109

Lemoyne, PA 17043

 

ESTATE OF PATRICIA RAE HOWARD, late of 440 East Lincoln Avenue, Myerstown Borough, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters Testamentary have been granted to the undersigned Co-Executors.

 

James T. Lawrence-Howard, Co-Executor

506 South 15½ Street

Reading, PA 19606

 

Tommie Lou McLellan, Co-Executor

340 Maniac Lane

Frostproof, FL 33843

 

Terry D. Weiler, Esquire,

213 East Lancaster Avenue

Shillington, PA 19607

 

ESTATE OF ANNA M. OSTROW, late of the City of Lebanon, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters Testamentary have been granted to the undersigned Executrix.

 

Joann Y. Hauer, Executrix

 

Jon F. Arnold, Esquire

410 Chestnut Street

Lebanon, PA 17042

 

ESTATE OF BRIAN J. SZELES, late of South Londonderry Township, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters Testamentary have been granted to the undersigned Executor.

 

Seandor J. Szeles, Executor

 

Wayne M. Pecht, Esquire

Johnson, Duffie, Stewart & Weidner, P.C.

301 Market Street, P.O. Box 109

Lemoyne, PA 17043

 

ESTATE OF WAYNE ROBERT RENTSCHLER, JR. a/k/a WAYNE R. RENTSCHLER, late of the City of Lebanon, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, deceased. Letters Testamentary have been granted to the undersigned Executor.

 

Chris Rentschler, Executor

581 Blue Mountain Road

Fredericksburg, PA 17026

 

Kenneth C. Sandoe, Esquire

Steiner & Sandoe, Attorneys

36 West Main Avenue

Myerstown, PA 17067

 

ORPHANS’ COURT DIVISION NOTICES

 

Court of Common Pleas of Lebanon County

 

Notice is hereby given that the following accounts in decedents estates, Guardianships and trusts

have been filed in the Office of the Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphans’ Court of Lebanon

County, and that the same will be presented to the Court of Common Pleas-Orphans’ Court

Division of said County for Confirmation NISI on

 

Monday, January 3, 2022

At 10:00 A.M.

 

in Courtroom No. 1, Municipal Building, City of Lebanon

 

FIRST AND FINAL ACCOUNTS WITH PROPOSED SCHEDULE OF DISTRIBUTION

FILED BY EXECUTORS OR ADMINISTRATORS

 

  1. Webb, Samuel E. aka Webb, Lupo Samuel E., dec’d., Lucy A. Houle, Admrx., , John
  2. Zimmerman, Atty,

 

All of the aforesaid accounts and statements of Proposed Distribution will be confirmed

ABSOLUTELY as of course by the said Orphans’ Court except those to which exemptions are

filed within twenty (20) days after the same are confirmed NISI.

 

Brian Craig

REGISTER OF WILLS AND CLERK OF ORPHANS’ COURT

LEBANON COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA

 

 

ARTICLES OF INCORPORATION

 

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that a Foreign Registration Statement has been filed with the

Department of State of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, at Harrisburg, PA on or about

December 21, 2021, for a foreign nonprofit corporation with a registered address in the

 

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as follows:

 

Give Living Hope Foundation

1245 E. Main St.

Annville, PA 17003

 

This corporation is incorporated under the laws of Delaware.

The address of its principal office is 1245 E. Main St., Annville, PA 17003.

The corporation has been qualified in Pennsylvania under the provisions of the Nonprofit

Corporation Law of 1988, as amended.

 

Esquire Assist Ltd / AAAgent Services, LLC

125 Locust Street

Harrisburg, PA  17101

 

 

 

 

 

 

JUDGES OPINION

 

Charles Hoyer, v. County of Lebanon

 

Civil Action-Administrative Law-Right-to-Know Law-Governmental Information-Criminal Investigation

 

Charles Hoyer (“Hoyer”), who was convicted in 2008 and 2009 of numerous sex offenses, submitted requests for documents pursuant to the Right-to-Know Law (“RTKL”), 65 P.S. § 67.101 et seq.  Following administrative denial of his requests, Hoyer filed an appeal to the Court seeking to obtain documents from the Lebanon County Clerk of Courts regarding conflicts of interest preventing Attorney Casey Shore from opposing the prosecuting District Attorney in the case and from the District Attorney’s Office of all letters he sent to the District Attorney’s Office.

 

  1. The purpose of the RTKL is to promote access to official government information in order to minimize secrecy and to enable scrutiny of actions undertaken by public officials.

 

  1. The RTKL at 65 P.S. § 67.708(b)(16) excludes from its purview records relating to or resulting in a criminal investigation including investigative materials, notes, correspondence, videos and reports.

 

  1. The RTKL was not designed to provide a criminal defendant with a process collaterally to attack a conviction, as the property forum for such a collateral attack is the Post Conviction Relief Act.

 

  1. The RTKL provides that an agency is not required to create a record that does not exist.

 

  1. Since it is unclear from the record the documents Hoyer seeks to obtain pertaining to a potential conflict of interest between Attorney Shore and the prosecuting District Attorney, it would be impossible for the Lebanon County Clerk of Courts Office to provide the sought documentation.

 

  1. In light of the fact that correspondence received by a governmental agency falls within a category of information that is subject to disclosure under the RTKL unless it is evidence in a criminal case, copies of any letters authored by Hoyer and sent to the Lebanon County District Attorney’s Office that were not evidence in the case are subject to disclosure under the RTKL.

 

L.C.C.C.P. Nos. CP-38-CR-2011-00627 and CP-38-CR-2012-01641, Opinion by Bradford H. Charles, Judge, May 10, 2021.

 

IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS LEBANON COUNTY

PENNSYLVANIA

 

CIVIL DIVISION

 

 

CHARLES HOYER                           : 

                                                          :                                                                                                                           :        NO. 2011-00627

  1. :        NO. 2012-01641

                                                          :

COUNTY OF LEBANON                  :

ORDER OF COURT

 

 

AND NOW, this 10th day of May, 2021, in accordance with the attached Opinion, the Request for Documents filed by the DEFENDANT under Pennsylvania’s Right-To-Know Law are granted in part and denied in part.  Within forty (40) days from the date of this Order, the Lebanon County District Attorney is to provide to the DEFENDANT photocopies of all letters written by the DEFENDANT to the Lebanon County District Attorney’s Office and/or prosecutor Megan Ryland-Tanner between the date on which charges were filed against Mr. Hoyer and the date on which the last criminal trial commenced.  In all other respects, the Requests for Records submitted by Charles Hoyer are denied.

A copy of this Order and Opinion are to be served upon the County of Lebanon Right-To-Know Officer, the Lebanon County District Attorney and upon the DEFENDANT by certified mail, return receipt requested.  All parties are advised that they have thirty (30) days from today in which to file an appeal of this decision with the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

 

BY THE COURT:

 

__________________________J.

BRADFORD H. CHARLES

BHC/pmd

Cc:    Court Administration (order only)

Lebanon County Right-To-Know Officer

Megan Ryland-Tanner, Esquire// District Attorney’s Office

Charles Hoyer JH1287// SCI Laurel Highlands, P.O. Box 631, 5706 Glades Pike Somerset, Pennsylvania, 15501 (certified mail, return receipt requested)

 

IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS LEBANON COUNTY

PENNSYLVANIA

 

CRIMINAL DIVISION

 

 

 

CHARLES HOYER                           : 

                                                          :                                                                                                                           :        NO. CP-38-CR-2011-00627

  1. :        NO. CP-38-CR-2012-01641

                                                          :

COUNTY OF LEBANON                  :

APPEARANCES

 

Charles Hoyer                                 pro se

 

Megan Ryland-Tanner, Esquire   For The District Attorney of Lebanon

                                                         County

Jamie Wolgemuth                           County of Lebanon Right-To-Know Officer

 

OPINION BY CHARLES, J., May 10, 2021

 

No convicted felon can use Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law as either a sword or a shield; the Right-to-Know Law does not offer a vehicle for a sentenced prisoner to collaterally attack a conviction.  Approximately ten (10) years ago, Charles Hoyer (Hereafter DEFENDANT) sought documents from the County of Lebanon pursuant to the Right-to-Know Law.  Following an administrative denial, the DEFENDANT filed an appeal with this Court.   For ten (10) years, the DEFENDANT has been successful in delaying a final resolution of his Right-to-Know document request.  Today, we will enter a long-overdue Order regarding the DEFENDANT’s request for documents.  Our reasoning will follow.

  1. FACTS and PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In 2008 and 2009, the DEFENDANT was tried and convicted of numerous sex crimes involving minor boys.  He was sentenced to a lengthy term of imprisonment.  Those sentences were affirmed on Direct Appeal by Pennsylvania’s Superior Court.  Following the denial of his Direct Appeals, the DEFENDANT embarked upon a campaign of post-conviction challenges under the Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA).  To the extent that the DEFENDANT’s PCRAs sought to overturn his convictions, they were denied by this Court.  Our decisions to deny PCRA relief to the DEFENDANT were eventually affirmed on substantive and/or procedural grounds by Pennsylvania’s Superior Court.

At some unknown time in 2010 or 2011, the DEFENDANT submitted requests for documents to Lebanon County officials under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law, 65 P.S. § 67.101 et sec (Hereafter R.T.K.L).  When the DEFENDANT’s requests for records were administratively denied, he filed an appeal with this Court.  In Docket 2011-00627, the DEFENDANT appealed his inability to obtain documents from the Lebanon County Clerk of Courts pertaining to “conflicts of interest that were filed that would prevent Attorney Casey Shore from being opposing counsel on the same case as Megan Ryland-Tanner.”  In Docket 2012-01641, the DEFENDANT appealed the denial of his request for “all letters the petitioner sent to the District Attorney’s Office, including those specifically addressed to Megan Ryland-Tanner.”

After the DEFENDANT was afforded the right to proceed in forma pauperis on his appeals, both dockets remained dormant.  On November 26, 2012, the DEFENDANT wrote a letter to the Lebanon County Court Administrator seeking information regarding the status of his RTKL appeal.  He stated that he “would like the motions to be processed in a timely fashion.”  The Lebanon County Prothonotary responded to the DEFENDANT’s inquiry by sending him a copy of all of the docket entries.  Nothing else was done in response to the DEFENDANT’s 2012 inquiry.

In 2016, the DEFENDANT’s RTKL appeal was scheduled for dismissal “because the docket shows no activity in the case for at least two years.”  On November 17, 2016, the DEFENDANT filed a document entitled “Statement of Intention to Proceed”.  As a result, the case was not dismissed.  In 2018, the DEFENDANT’s RTKL request was again scheduled for dismissal due to inactivity.  The DEFENDANT again stated that he intended to proceed.  Once again, the case was kept in an active status.

Nothing else was filed between 2018 and 2020.  For a third time, the DEFENDANT’s RTKL requests were slated for dismissal due to inactivity.  On November 3, 2020, the DEFENDANT filed another Statement of Intention to Proceed.  This time, the Prothonotary forwarded a copy of the files to this Court for review.  On December 7, 2020, this Court entered an Order directing that a Status Conference be conducted on January 21, 2021.  We stated in our Order: “This Court is unwilling to allow the above-captioned matters to be held in abeyance indefinitely.”

This Court conducted a Status Conference on January 21, 2021.  As a result of that Status Conference, this Court stated: “This Court is not willing to postpone adjudication of this issue any longer.”  We directed that the parties file briefs in support of their respective positions.  A deadline for these briefs of April 1, 2021 was established.  Thereafter, the DEFENDANT sent a letter dated March 29, 2021 by which he complained that the law library at his prison was closed.  The Commonwealth filed its brief in a timely fashion.  The DEFENDANT filed his brief on April 26, 2021.  Even though the DEFENDANT’s brief was tardy, we accepted and considered it.  Today, we issue an Order to adjudicate the issues now before this Court.

 

  1. LEGAL PRINCIPLES

The right of citizens to inspect and copy the records of administrative agencies is regulated generally by the RTKL.  The purpose of the RTKL is to promote access to official government information in order to minimize secrecy and enable scrutiny of actions undertaken by public officials. Housing Authority of City of Pittsburgh v. Van Osdol, 40 A.3d 209 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2012).  “Consistent with the RTKL’s goal of promoting government transparency and its remedial nature, the exceptions to disclosure of public records must be narrowly construed.” Office of Governor v. Davis, 122 A.3d 1185, 1191 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2015).

It should surprise no one that criminal defendants began to view the RTKL as a potential resource in their quests to challenge or overturn a conviction.  For this reason, the RTKL itself excludes from its purview records “relating to or resulting in a criminal investigation…” 65 P.S. § 67.708(b)(16).  As our Commonwealth Court noted, the RTKL was not designed to provide criminal defendants with a process to collaterally attack a conviction; the proper “forum” for such collateral attacks is the PCRA.  Guarrasi v. Scott, 25 A.3d 394 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2011).

Under the RTKL, the term “record” is broadly defined.  See, 65 P.S. § 67.102.  However, the Act contains a laundry list of records that are exempt from disclosure under the RTKL.  Among the documents deemed exempt are criminal investigation documents, including “investigative materials, notes, correspondence, videos and reports”.  65 P.S. § 67.708(b)(16).  In addition, the RTKL specifically states: “When responding to a request for access, an agency shall not be required to create a record which does not currently exist…”  65 P.S. § 67.705.

A key case dealing with the intersection between criminal law and the RTKL is Pennsylvania State Police v. Grove, 161 A.3d 877 (Pa. 2017).  Grove involved a request for the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) to provide “any video/audio recordings taken by officers” at the scene of a two-vehicle accident that occurred in Centre County.  Apparently, such recording existed.  However, PSP refused to disclose them because they were deemed “criminal investigation records” under § 708(b)(16) of the RTKL.  The Supreme Court disagreed.  The Court stated “The mere fact that a record has some connection to a criminal proceeding does not automatically exempt it under § 708(b)(16) of the RTKL…”  Id at page 885.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court cited with approval various decisions of Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court that characterized “criminal investigation information” as including “statements compiled by District Attorneys, forensic reports, and reports of police, including notes of interviews with victims, suspects and witnesses assembled for the specific purpose of investigation.” Id at page 893.  Recognizing that the question of whether information possessed by law enforcement constitutes criminal investigative material “must be determined on a case-by-case basis”, the Supreme Court evaluated whether the video recordings that were the subject of Ms. Groves’ request fell into that category.  Emphasizing that the video evidence did not depict the actual accident itself, the Supreme Court concluded, “The fact and nature of the Vehicle Code violations could not have been garnered from the video-only aspect of the

.” Id at page 895.  Accordingly, the Supreme Court ordered the disclosure of the video recordings.

We have identified several cases where convicted felons have attempted to use the RTKL to obtain documents they believe will be relevant to post-conviction challenges that they have or would like to file.  In Barros v. Martin, 92 A.3d 1243 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014), an individual convicted of murder sought documents pertaining to his criminal conviction, including laboratory reports, ballistic analysis reports, witness statements and other documents.  The Lehigh County District Attorney opposed Mr. Barros’ RTKL request.  The trial court sided with the prosecutor.  Mr. Barros appealed, arguing that his request for documents would help him establish that a “discovery violation” had occurred during or before his trial.  The Commonwealth Court rejected Mr. Barros’ arguments.  The Court stated:

“Thus, if a record, on its face, relates to a criminal investigation, it is exempt under the RTKL pursuant to § 708(b)(16)(ii).  Criminal investigative records remain exempt from disclosure under the RTKL even after the investigation is completed.  Also, a record is not considered a public record under § 102 of the RTKL if it is “exempt under any other state or federal law”, including the [Criminal History Records and Information Act]. Section 9106(c)(4) of the CHRIA, 18 Pa.C.S. § 9106(c)(4), provides that ‘investigative and treatment information shall not be disseminated to any department, agency or individual unless the department, agency or individual requesting the information is a criminal justice agency.’  The CHRIA defines ‘investigative information’ as ‘information assembled as a result of the performance of any inquiry, formal or informal, into a criminal incident or an allegation of criminal wrongdoing and may include modus operandi information.’ Section 9102 of CHRIA, 18 Pa.C.S. § 9102.” Id at page 1250.

 

Based upon this legal analysis, the Superior Court stated:

“We agree with the trial court that the ‘Post-Conviction Relief Act…is the exclusive vehicle through which any relief in relation to a criminal conviction may be sought”, and Barros ‘cannot use this civil proceeding to collaterally attack any alleged irregularities in a criminal prosecution for which he apparently remains incarcerated.’” Id at page 1252.

 

Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court denied Mr. Barros’ request for information.

Similarly, in the more recent case of Souffrant v. Pennsylvania State Police, 2019 W.L.470966 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2019)[1], the defendant was convicted of homicide.  He submitted an RTKL request for information seeking ballistics and ammunition reports authored by a firearms expert with the Pennsylvania State Police.  The Office of Open Records and the Lancaster County Court determined that Mr. Souffrant’s request was for “criminal investigation records”.  As such, the request was denied.  Mr. Souffrant appealed.  Mr. Souffrant argued that his RTKL request should be granted “to promote governmental transparency” and because it contained exculpatory evidence to which he would be entitled under Brady v. Maryland, 272 U.S. 83 (1963).   The Commonwealth Court disagreed.  The Court stated:

“We reject requestor’s claims.  The State Police established that the report relates to a criminal investigation and is exempt under § 708(b)(16)(ii) and (vi)(A) of the Right to Know Law.  There is no public right of access to the report that trumps the exception.  Moreover, if requestor believes he is entitled to the documents because they relate to his criminal conviction, the ‘Post-Conviction Relief Act…is the exclusive vehicle through which any relief in relation to a criminal conviction may be sought.” Id.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

III.      DISCUSSION

In his brief, the DEFENDANT states that he needs the information sought because he is in the process of preparing a Federal Habeas Corpus challenge to his conviction.  He argues that the documents he seeks would establish “corruption” and “conflicts of interest” that he could use to challenge his conviction.  The DEFENDANT even suggests that this Court and the Commonwealth Court would be complicit in a “cover up” of misconduct should we deny his request for records.

In support of these broad proclamations, the DEFENDANT seeks two sets of documents:

  • “Conflict of interest” documents pertaining to Megan Ryland-Tanner and Casey Shore; and
  • All letters authored by Defendant to the District Attorney’s Office or Megan Ryland-Tanner between the date on which charges were filed and the date of his criminal jury trial.

Both the County of Lebanon and the Right-To-Know Officer of the District Attorney’s Office oppose the DEFENDANT’s request for these records.  The Respondents indicate that they do not know what is meant by the term “conflict of interest” documents.  In addition, the Respondents argue that the DEFENDANT is not entitled to copies of the letters he sent to Attorney Ryland-Tanner because those documents became part of the District Attorney’s investigative file.

As it relates to the “conflict of interest” documents, we agree with Respondents.  We do not know precisely what the DEFENDANT is seeking via this request.  Moreover, the concept of “conflict of interest” is a legal concept that may be defined differently by the DEFENDANT than it is by the County of Lebanon or the District Attorney’s Office.  Without a more specific definition of “conflict of interest”, it would be impossible for anyone to respond to such a request.  Moreover, we highly doubt that a document exists that is entitled “conflict of interest”.  As noted above, no governmental agency is required to create or collate documentation simply to respond to a citizen’s RTKL request.  If the above were not enough, Megan Ryland-Tanner was and continues to be a prosecutor employed by the Lebanon County District Attorney’s Office.  To the extent that the DEFENDANT may be seeking personal information relating to her, such information is clearly exempt under the RTKL.  See, ­­­­65 P.S. § 67.708(b)(6)(7).  For any and all of the above reasons, we sustain the objection of Respondents to the DEFENDANT’s request for “conflict of interest” documents.

Our opinion with respect to the DEFENDANT’s letters is somewhat different.  The DEFENDANT claims that the copies he kept of his letters to prosecutor Ryland-Tanner were destroyed by either corrections officers or his own lawyer.  For some reason unknown to this Court, the DEFENDANT believes that the letters he authored would somehow be relevant to a Federal Habeas Corpus claim he is preparing.

We do not consider letters authored by the DEFENDANT to fall within the category of “criminal investigative records”, at least not unless those letters were offered in evidence against the DEFENDANT as confessions.  Our recollection of the DEFENDANT‘s trial, while admittedly spotty, is that the Commonwealth did not use the DEFENDANT’s letters as confessions.   Moreover, the District Attorney does not even argue in her brief that these letters contained evidence against the DEFENDANT.[2]

As a general category, correspondence received by a governmental agency falls within the category of “records” that can be disclosed under the RTKL.  Unless or until such correspondence constitutes evidence in a criminal case, it remains subject to disclosure under the RTKL.  Here, we do not perceive any criminal investigative harm that would be suffered by the Commonwealth by providing the DEFENDANT with copies of letters that he himself had authored and sent.  We will therefore grant the DEFENDANT’s request to be given copies of the letters he wrote to the District Attorney’s Office and/or prosecutor Attorney Megan Ryland-Tanner between the date on which he was charged and the date of his criminal trial.

In order to effectuate the above decisions, an Order will be entered this date.

 

 

[1] Although Souffrant is considered an unreported panel decision, the Commonwealth Court indicated that it could be cited “for its persuasive value”.  We have chosen to do so in part because Souffrant was decided after Grove.

[2] The D.A.’s Office does argue that the records may have been purged and that the DEFENDANT’s request was insufficiently specific.  If in fact the DEFENDANT’s letters no longer exist, so be it.  As to specificity, we find the DEFENDANT’s request to be sufficient to identify what he is seeking – ALL copies of letters he sent between the date of charging and the date of trial.

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