Updated: Oct 21
Ramsingh Legal secured a massive victory for a client in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas, which today held that the Pennridge School District unlawfully denied access to public records relating to a book banning policy.
While this is not the first "bad faith" decision in Pennsylvania, to the best of our knowledge it is the first decision in which a requester has been able to conclusively establish that an agency intentionally falsified records to evade the Right-to-Know law.
The Court held that the District failed to meet its burden of proof that the records did not exist and could not be provided, and also subjected the District to an award of attorney’s fees and costs for its deceitful conduct. Attorney fees and costs awards are relatively rare in the Right-to-Know Law context, because of the statute’s requirement that a requester show that the agency acted in bad faith.
The dispute began when a local school board instructed administrators to remove and review certain books in the high school library. Mr. Darren Laustsen filed a Right-to-Know Law request for the titles of the books currently under review. Shortly after, Mr. Laustsen retained Joy Ramsingh to represent him.
Throughout the appeal at the Office of Open Records and in the Court of Common Pleas, the District argued that although it had the information, it could not produce the responsive record because of a database technicality.
As the appeal continued, evidence emerged showing that on the same day that the District responded to Mr. Laustsen’s request, they falsified the record they gave to Mr. Laustsen so that the books would not appear on the report. This opinion follows an oral argument that occurred in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas on September 26, 2023.
Today’s ruling establishes real consequences for agencies who attempt to avoid responding under the law by manipulating their records. As the Court cited in its opinion: "The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them." - Patrick Henry.
A pdf of the opinion is here:
If you need assistance with a public records or public meetings matter, please reach out to Joy Ramsingh at email@example.com. We’ll be happy to provide you with a free consultation. This blog post probably qualifies as "attorney advertising," which means that you need to know that every case is different, and we cannot guarantee results.