Protecting the People’s Rights in Government Matters

Helping citizens and media outlets navigate open records and open meetings laws to enforce lawful access

At Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky, our attorneys help citizens and news organizations assert their rights under the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law and Sunshine Act, the Ohio Public Records and Open Meetings acts, and the West Virginia Freedom of Information and Open Meeting acts. We provide counsel and representation in litigation to ensure that records are promptly and appropriately released.

Ensuring the government’s cooperation on release

For the media and government watchdog organizations, the issue is more than just access to records. Timeliness is often critical, and state laws may leave the government some wiggle room in this regard.

Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Act gives the government five business days to grant or deny a request (citing the legal basis for any denial) or invoke a 30-day extension. Grounds for extensions may include off-site record storage, insufficient staffing, the need for legal review or redaction, and the complexity of the request.

West Virginia likewise gives the government five business days to deny or advise the requestor of the time and place where he or she may inspect and copy the materials. In contrast, Ohio’s Public Records Act affords the government a reasonable amount of time to rule on a request, interpreted by the courts as without delay and with reasonable speed.

In every case, the attorneys at SMGG help ensure the government correctly interprets the request and the law regarding the timing and cost of the release.

Ensuring records are appropriate

Our attorneys also help organizations and individuals counter government release of information that should not be made public. This may include:

  • Personal information, such as medical records, DNA, adoption information, and putative father registry records
  • Archaeological and historic sites
  • Financial investigations
  • Financial statements and data submitted for housing agency assistance
  • Information on customers of municipally owned or operated public utilities
  • Internal memoranda
  • Security information for infrastructure and electronics
  • Intellectual property records, including trade secrets of a county or municipal hospital
  • Trial preparation records
  • Residential, familial, and other personal information regarding government employees
  • Records of probation and parole, and inmate records kept by the department of rehabilitation and correction and the department of youth services
  • Records whose release is otherwise prohibited by federal law

Keeping government board meetings honest

Hiding behind the cloak of executive session is a time-honored municipal pastime, and the attorneys at SMGG have helped many individuals and organizations keep government bodies honest.

Full and accurate minutes must be kept and any efforts to invoke executive session must meet legal standards. Depending on the state, exceptions may include discussions about personnel, the purchase of property, pending or imminent court action, and collective bargaining.

Ready to take on big government

The attorneys at Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky regularly pursue appeals, issue cease and desist letters and petition courts for mandamus actions ordering government bodies to make records or meetings accessible. To learn more about how we can help, please contact Ronald D. Barber at rbarber@smgglaw.com to arrange for a consultation.