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September 18, 2011

Bureaucrats initially deny Pennsylvania prisoner access to state constitution

This local story, headlined "Pennsylvania's Department of State denies inmate's request for a copy of the state constitution," provides an amusing tale of state bureaucracy at its finest:

The state constitution ... should be readily available to anyone who wants it, right? That’s probably what Michael Baynard thought when he requested a copy of it from the Pennsylvania Department of State through the state’s Right to Know Law.

Instead, the 37-year-old prison inmate was told he couldn’t have it. Baynard, who is serving time at the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township for sex offenses, appealed to the state’s Office of Open Records. On Sept. 7, the Open Records Office ordered the State Department to send him a copy of the constitution.

When that appeal arrived at the Open Records Office, its executive director, Terry Mutchler, said she thought it was some kind of high jinks. Then she realized it was for real. “It almost leaves me speechless,” Mutchler said. “It encapsulates some of the derision that folks have for us in government because a copy of the constitution is clearly a public record.”

The Department of State argued that the constitution doesn’t qualify as a record that falls under its purview since it is not a record that the department made as a result of an action it took, spokesman Ron Ruman said. In defending its decision to the Open Records Office, the department also claimed it assigns act numbers to records and the request for the constitution failed to cite an act number and year.

But there is only one state constitution. Mutchler said she couldn’t imagine a state agency not providing it.... The State Department has decided not to appeal the Open Records Office decision, although the department’s staff counsel stands by the initial denial as correct and appropriate, Ruman said.

September 18, 2011 at 06:18 PM | Permalink


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Given most open records laws I've read the initial denial was probably correct. The laws I've seen generally require that the requested material have been produced by or for the department the request is sent to and not just that copies exist somewhere in the department. I tend to doubt that a state constitution was produced by or for any agency of state government.

I would see this story in a very different light if the prison system itself were trying to deny access under some theory that having access to the document would be detrimental to institution order or something similar. But as far as I can tell from the story the fact that the requester is a inmate had absolutely nothing to do with the denial.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 18, 2011 6:49:32 PM

Sounds good, doesn't it. A Right to Know Law. Every Department now has a Right to Know Law Office. OK ask for anything. The answer is, no. Always, with an infinite number of reasons. Request not specific enough (no specificity is ever enough). Does not exist as described. Covered by a statutory exception when it is not. Etc. And now, the highly creative, "... not a record that the department made as a result of an action it took..." And the almost as creative, "... failed to cite an act number and year." Then there is an appeal office.

So, who was hired to review the requests, then write the denial letters, then review the appeals. One guess. Correct, by the hundreds. If anyone has ever received any document, I have not heard of it.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 18, 2011 7:59:04 PM

Here is a problem. The taxpayer has paid for every jot and dot of every page of every document. The lawyer is criminally converting the chattel of the public. If a neighbor borrowed your Corvette for 2 days. Now, it's been two weeks since you have been deprived of your Corvette. What is that called? Because the intent is to never turn over the records, it goes beyond conversion to theft. There should be no Office of a Right to Know. All documents, emails, communications, recordings, utterances should be automatically posted to the internet, and at the time of their occurrences.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 18, 2011 8:05:50 PM

i'm with SC on this one. This goes beyond stupidity! into out right criminal action! EVERY citizen has EVERY LEGAL RIGHT to a copy of the laws coverning their LIVES!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 18, 2011 10:58:07 PM

you know that might also be a way to break the little idiots! if every americna demanded via the FOIA a copy of EVERY FEDERAL LAW AND STATUE! then do the same to each and every lvl of govt right down to the local. first it would break them in the wallet....Next of course once every AMERICAN had a copy of all the criminal bullshit our so-called elected officals keep dreaming up in front of them where they could SEE IT! they might get fed up and get rid of them!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 18, 2011 10:59:58 PM

Rod: They would love a flood of demands. They would have to greatly expand the RTK Offices of each department, and hire, you guessed it, many more lawyers to respond, mostly, no, give us more information.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 18, 2011 11:20:26 PM


Besides which, over requests of a couple pages an office can generally require payment so they'd be making a profit, not be driven broke by such a move.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 19, 2011 9:01:27 AM

Wow people -- bloggers, Terry Mutchler, et al. REALLY?

I run a Law Library in a county pen in NY. Every Law Library has a copy by state Rules & Regs. It is on the computer, there is a printed copy of the state & the U.S. constitution.

A/M Baynard may not be entitled to hold a copy if he exceeds his locker space (doubtful); he certainly is not entitled to a TAXPAYER-supplied-copy through FOIL or any other means.

How about you Soronel, or you rodsmith, or SC, send him a copy? Dolts

Posted by: adamakis | Sep 19, 2011 10:32:37 AM

there is a big difference between an foia request about general working of what an indivudal department is up to. which is what most media foia requests are! and a copy of the LAW you are REQUIRED upon pain of inprisonment to be aware of and OBEY! i think a hell of a good case could be made that EVERY AMERCAN SHOULD HAVE A SET!and since they are made and changed by govt. GOVT SHOULD PROVIDE IT!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 19, 2011 1:55:31 PM

maybe that way the idiots would stop rewriting a law every 6-8 months just to look good!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 19, 2011 1:56:37 PM

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