Court approves Lehighton SD email release
A Bucks County resident seeking documents pertaining to Lehighton Area School District’s decision to hire an outside law firm in November 2018 will get many of the documents he requested, many partially redacted and some unredacted, following a ruling from Carbon County Common Pleas Judge Steven Serfass.
On Dec. 30, Serfass issued the ruling granting Simon Campbell access, in part, to emails regarding the district’s hiring of King, Spry, Herman, Freund and Faul LLC to handle Right To Know requests submitted by one of Lehighton’s board members, David Bradley.
Following Campbell’s request for the information in December 2018, the district handed over 4,000 documents but redacted information from 167 emails they said contained personal information which could expose the district to lawsuits.
Campbell appealed to the Office of Open Records on several grounds. OOR, after denying the district’s request for a hearing on the matter, ordered that the district hand over the 167 emails, unredacted.
The district appealed the ruling to Carbon County Court because it says the emails contain employee discipline, student information, IT security information, and information protected by attorney-client privilege.
Serfass heard testimony from the district on May 31 during an evidentiary hearing.
His ruling ordered the district to turn over 39 exhibits presented at the hearing, but said they could redact the names of Lehighton students, the names of parents discussing their children, written criticisms of district employees, the performance review of a district employee and personal email addresses. There were 14 exhibits, Serfass ruled, that should be turned over in unredacted format.
In its appeal, the district also claimed it was, “unconstitutionally denied substantive and procedural due process when the OOR denied its request for a hearing.”
According to Serfass, “any party challenging a statute’s constitutionality bears a heavy burden to demonstrate that the legislation clearly, palpably and plainly violates the terms of the Constitution.”
Serfass ruled that the district exercised its right to a judicial review of the OOR’s final decision, which “fully satisfies due process and cures any alleged violation thereof.”
On a 5-4 vote in November 2018, Lehighton’s board appointed King, Spry, Herman, Freund and Faul LLC at an hourly rate of $165 with invoices to be presented on a monthly basis.
According to the resolution provided by the district, the firm’s duties include “research of potential sources of relief from (David) Bradley’s actions, communication with district solicitor William Schwab and the board regarding legal options, and representation of the district in legal proceedings as authorized by the board.”
In August 2018, the district appealed a decision by the OOR directing the release of more than 7,700 emails of Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver and several high school administrators.
Carbon County President Judge Roger Nanovic reversed that OOR decision, citing a lack of specificity in Bradley’s request.