High court balances coroner's act with Right to Know
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The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments this month in Harrisburg in the appeal of a media company that was prohibited from immediately looking at a coroner's autopsy report to find out the manner in which a Pennsylvania college student died.
At issue was whether there is a conflict between the Right-to-Know Law and the Pennsylvania Coroner's Act, which says manner-of-death records only become public 30 days after the end of the year in which the person died.
According to the high court's grant of allocatur, it will look at whether the Commonwealth Court used a new, more lenient standard of "inconsistency" when determining if statutory provisions conflict, rather than the stricter "irreconcilable" standard required by the Statutory Construction Act.
All parties in the case agreed the records were public -- it was just a matter of when they are required to be disclosed.
Under Section 3101.1 of the Right-to-Know Law, provisions of the Right-to-Know Law take a back seat whenever they conflict with any other federal or state law.
But, according to Jonathan R. Donnellan of the Hearst Corp., who represented WGAL-TV, there was no conflict between the Right-to-Know Law and the Coroner's Act.
Mechanicsburg, Pa., attorney Keith Orr Brenneman, who represented the Cumberland County coroner, argued the Commonwealth Court and Pennsylvania Office of Open Records had properly found a conflict.
For Justice Thomas G. Saylor, though, the issue could be simplified. If the report was a public record, Justice Saylor asked, why not just give it up?
First Published May 21, 2012 12:00 am