A state appellate court ruling is a win for open government and common sense regarding requests for open records.
In a 4-3 decision, a Commonwealth Court panel ruled that a government agency cannot ignore a request for copies of records just because it was not formally addressed to a Right-to-Know officer or because it wasn't submitted on agency form.
Instead the majority ruled as long as the request includes the person's name and address and enough information to identify the particular records, it should be considered and processed as a Right-to-Know request.
The case before the appellate court concerned an anti-gambling activist's request in 2009 to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board for records regarding applications for casino license and communications between the board and the applicants.
The gaming board didn't process the request because it was sent to the communications office instead of the Right-to-Know officer and because it wasn't submitted on the board's form for requesting records.
The justices ruled the board's interpretation exceeded the law's requirements.
"The requirement that a written request be 'addressed' to the open-records officer does not mean that it contain a formal salutation: 'Dear Open-Records Officer,'" Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote in the majority opinion. "Rather, it means simply that written requests must be 'directed' to the open-records office, a word synonymous with 'addressed.'"
The majority opinion also noted the law states that other employees who receive requests for copies of records are to forward them to agency's right-to-know officer.
While the court said the original request for records was sufficient, it sent the question as to whether the specific documents being sought are open to the public back to the state Office on Open Records for further review.
The court's ruling is a victory for Pennsylvanians because it says government agencies cannot ignore open records requests unless the person meets every technicality. Otherwise, it would be too easy for public officials to dismiss requests on the smallest grounds.
That certainly wouldn't fit in the spirit, if not the words, of the Right-to-Know Law.