Overruling Philadelphia judge, state court panel says Daily News is entitled to see police-grievance information

Posted: October 23, 2010

A Commonwealth Court panel has overturned a lower court to rule in favor of the Philadelphia Daily News in its effort to obtain copies of police grievance-arbitration decisions from the city.

The ruling yesterday overturns a Philadelphia judge's injunction that blocked the city from turning over the records to reporter Wendy Ruderman.

"This is a great victory for the public's right to know in Pennsylvania," Daily News City Editor Gar Joseph said.

In July 2009, Ruderman submitted a request to the city under the right-to-know law to review all arbitration decisions from 2005 to the present. The city planned to release redacted copies of 187 decisions until a judge granted the injunction in September 2009 at the request of the Fraternal Order of Police .

The union argued that the documents contained sensitive and personal information about the officers, including home addresses, names of family members and schools their children attend. This data and details about the officers' off-duty conduct could jeopardize their own or their families' safety, union vice president John McGrody testified.

"The Daily News never had any intention of revealing personal information about police officers or their families," Joseph said. "But we strongly believe citizens have the right to know about alleged wrongdoing by police officers, the disciplinary action taken against them and the extent to which that disciplinary action is reversed by the arbitration process."

In the initial ruling in favor of the FOP, Common Pleas Judge Idee C. Fox said the city could provide the Daily News with nothing more than the date of the arbitration decision, the name of the arbitrator and whether the discipline was affirmed or denied. The order barred the city from including the name of the officer and a description of the charges against the officer.

The state court, however, ruled that that sensitive information is already required to be redacted. Furthermore, McGrody's testimony "fell far short of showing a substantial and demonstrable risk of physical harm to even one individual."

McGrody said he couldn't comment yesterday since he hadn't seen the ruling. Attorney Marc Gelman, who represents the FOP in this case, did not return a phone message for comment.

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