The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Latest News

January 28, 2013

Court to weigh secrecy of Pa. Turnpike lawyers

HARRISBURG — The state Supreme Court on Monday announced it would hear arguments in March about a dispute between the attorney general's office and the turnpike commission over disclosure of records in a public corruption investigation that has lasted more than three years.

The commission wants the high court to overturn a decision by a grand jury supervisory judge that sided with prosecutors who want access to communications between the agency's lawyers and the commissioners or employees. The commission argues that those exchanges are protected by lawyer-client privilege, while the attorney general's office says their disclosure is needed to keep the government honest.

In an April ruling, Judge Barry Feudale described the grand jury investigation as involving potential crimes related to "employment practices, procurement practices and the use of commission resources to conduct political activities."

Government lawyers, Feudale wrote, "owe their ultimate allegiance" to the people of Pennsylvania, and otherwise the agencies would be without oversight, the attorney general's office would be frustrated in investigating wrongdoing by public officials, public confidence in government would be eroded, and people would have to pay taxes without accountability about how they are spent.

The turnpike commission's lawyers said Feudale's decision, if allowed to stand, would give state prosecutors "unfettered access" to every agency record, including "all emails existing on an agency server."

A September court filing by the commission said it had produced more than 155,000 pages for the investigation. The commission said it would not object to some sort of review to see if records should be disclosed but "objects to a process whereby its privileges are summarily discarded."

The attorney general's office wrote in November that allowing state government entities to claim privilege for their attorneys would prevent meaningful oversight of their operations and decisions.

"Government lawyers have additional obligations and responsibilities, setting them apart from privately retained counsel whose sole concern is to protect their clients' interest and advocate on their behalf," the attorney general's office argued. "Government lawyers have an additional duty to act in the public interest and even rectify wrongful official acts where necessary."

The prosecutors said they were investigating potential crimes by the commission, commission members, employees or people who do business with the agency.

"This investigation involves, among other things, the conduct of state officials and employees in the performance of their duties and also of persons attempting to influence them or who might benefit from influencing them," the attorney general's office wrote.

The turnpike commission disclosed in October 2009 that prosecutors were seeking documents, but did not explain why.

At that time, activities at the turnpike had just been a prominent focus of testimony during the public corruption trial of former state Sen. Vince Fumo, a Philadelphia Democrat now serving a federal prison term after being convicted of 137 criminal counts.

In 2010, former turnpike chairman Mitchell Rubin pleaded guilty to felony obstruction of justice in relation to the Fumo investigation. Ruth Arnao — Rubin's wife, Fumo's co-defendant and a former state Senate employee — was convicted and served nearly a year in prison for fraud and obstruction.

The turnpike hired its first chief compliance officer in September, former FBI agent David Gentile.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Latest News
  • Denne, Williams & Stanton Records hearing scheduled

    A Cambria County judge will consider complaints filed by two Johnstown residents seeking documents related to the city’s municipal waste water operation at hearing at the end of this month.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sen. Bob Casey Casey targets heroin

    The heroin trade has brought addiction, death, violence and theft to Johnstown and other Pennsylvania communities.
    Figuring out how to deal with those issues is difficult for local, state and federal officials.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drive-in to open with high-tech projector

    Drive-in movie theaters and the term “state of the art” seldom share the same sentence.
    But that will soon be the case for the Silver Drive-In, it’s owner said. The Scalp Avenue site, often marketed as a nostalgic summer night escape, soon will boast a high-end projector capable of displaying the latest and greatest blockbusters in razor sharp high-definition, theater owner Rick Rosco said.

    April 18, 2014

  • Sheetz work underway

    Earthmoving is underway at Richland Town Centre for a nearly 6,500-square-foot Sheetz store.
    And the real estate broker marketing the land says a 3,000-square-foot retail building will be built next door.

    April 18, 2014

  • Smith, Shakir Mosi Police seize heroin, money in Prospect

    Johnstown police reported that several bricks of heroin, along with $4,000 in cash and a handgun, were discovered in the city's Prospect neighborhood around 4 a.m. Friday. An arrest warrant has been issued for the man be­lieved to be the owner or renter of the two homes raided.

    April 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Comedy night targets serious problem

    Animal advocates are using comedy to take aim at a serious problem.
    The third annual Funny Fundraiser to benefit the Nardecchia Spay and Neuter Fund will be held at 8 p.m. May 16 at Ace’s, 316 Chestnut St. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.

    April 18, 2014

  • Local briefs 4/19/2014

    April 18, 2014

  • Early morning police raid in Prospect area leads to arrest warrant

    Johnstown police reported that several bricks of heroin, along with $4,000 in cash and a handgun, were discovered in the city's Prospect neighborhood around 4 a.m. this morning.

    April 18, 2014

  • No Lion: 3 busted for nude photo at Penn State shrine

    Penn State police say three male students who reportedly posed nude for a photo at the university’s Nittany Lion Shrine face school discipline.

    April 18, 2014

  • 5 things to know for Friday in Pennsylvania

    A look at late-breaking news, coming events and stories that will be talked about in Pennsylvania on Friday:

    April 18, 2014

Poll

Do you think that Jack Williams will get the 270 signatures from city residents needed in order to have a referendum placed on a municipal ballot to have the city's pressure test mandate repealed?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow

House Ads