Schuylkill County government denied our 3 Right to Know requests related to the Snoopgate investigation.
The decision comes as no surprise to us. We’ve already known about what we presume was a similar request filed by the local daily newspaper that got denied, too.
Also not surprising is that the Courthouse waited until the last possible moment they had, by law, to respond to our Right to Know requests. When granting themselves a 30-day extension on our requests, the Courthouse said it would need until April 21 to respond.
And officials there milked every last second off the clock, responding at 4:30 p.m. on the 21st.
Schuylkill County Government Keeping Snoopgate Investigation Details a Big Secret
Back in March, we filed 3 Right to Know requests with the Courthouse as they related to the Snoopgate investigation. What we wanted was a copy of the “investigation” report that Commissioners and Courthouse officials referenced in public when trying to pin “unauthorized searches” conducted on LexisNexis on 2 specific employees.
Those officials wanted to fire these 2 employees, who happen to be among the 4 Jane Doe plaintiffs in the sexual harassment lawsuit against Commissioner George Halcovage and some of the officials trying to fire them.
Attempts to fire these employees have been as successful as our Right to Know requests, however.
Meanwhile, the Courthouse continues to press the issue. While the termination attempts have come up empty, the Commissioners agreed to spend up to nearly $250,000 to offer identity theft protection monitoring to more than 9,100 people who they say could have had their personal data compromised by these “unauthorized searches.”
Right to Know Requests Denied
Our Right to Know requests focused on that report or reports.
During the first termination attempt back in 2021, Commissioner Gary Hess motioned and his colleagues approved a plan to use a third-party law firm, Eckert Seamas Cherin and Mellott LLC, as an investigator to determine what, if any, rules these employees allegedly broke and if they should be fired as a result.
It took some time but eventually the County said it had an investigation completed and attempted to pin these searches on the two employees in question. What isn’t clear, however, is if this law firm actually conducted its own investigation or if the County used it to rubber-stamp an investigation it conducted on its own.
We asked for a copy of the investigation report filed by this third-party law firm. And we asked for a copy of a report the County submitted to the law firm, suspecting that it did this to get someone at the firm to sign off on it, in a manner of speaking.
Our third request sought any email communications between County officials and this third-party law firm.
To date, the County has not been transparent in terms of this investigation. It cites a report but doesn’t let anyone see it.
In regard to our request for communications between the County and this firm, the Courthouse denied it because it’s too broad of a request. But that’s not the only reason. We got shot down because we requested records that are exempt from disclosure, according to the Courthouse.
Here are some specifics on the other reasons for denying our request:
The reason for denying our other two requests to see the reports the law firm filed to the County and vice versa is similar in a lot of ways.
For that, specifically, it’s an interesting take. In responding to our RTK request, the record we want is exempt from disclosure. But when the Commissioners want to use it against employees they seek to fire, it’s perfectly fine to disclose some of its alleged details.
We’ve got 15 days to file an appeal to this decision with state Open Records office and that’s something we’re considering.