Pa. high court says no right to view cellphone records

Government decidedly not open in a state where the public cannot view records of bills it pays.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor on

Does a newspaper have a right to view an elected representative's cellphone records when the phone bill is paid for by the public? No, the Pennslvania Supreme Court as ruled.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the Herald-Standard and former reporter Paul Sunyak sued state Rep. Larry Roberts in 2000, asserting that Roberts' phone bills were public records because the taxpayers pay the bills. The paper also claims he violated the paper's rights of equal opportunity because he showed the records to other media.

A lower court dismissed the entire claim but the Supreme Court previously ordered the court to reconsider the equal protection issue. The Commonwealth Court then dismissed that issue as well and the Supreme Court this week upheld the lower court's order.

The Herald-Standard's publisher, Val J. Laub, told his own paper that the decision was an appalling blow to those who hope to put a dent in Pennsylvania's atrocious open-records laws.

"However, behind every cloud is a silver lining," he told the paper, "and I believe that the judicial actions of our state courts will serve the media industry well by inciting newspapers across the state to continue the battle to move Pennsylvania from one of the worst states in the country for access to public records, to a much needed higher level."

Roberts is apparently operating under a cloud because he has had to deal not only with the cellphone case but also a nasty divorce, a bizarre mortgage forgery case, and a rare case of chronic hiccups that left him hospitalized for weeks.

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