State news-media association files brief in Morris case

State news-media association files brief in Morris case

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The Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association this week filed an amicus brief in support of a lower-court order recognizing the certification of a police-dispatch record associated with the Nizah Morris incident.

PNA was founded in 1925 and represents more than 300 news-media outlets across the state. PGN has been a member of the association since 1987. 

Morris was an African-American trans woman found with a fatal head wound in 2002, shortly after a “courtesy ride” from Officer Elizabeth Skala in the Gayborhood. Her homicide remains unsolved. 

Inexplicably, Skala initiated a traffic stop while assigned to respond to Morris, who was intoxicated. 

Last year, PGN requested from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office a certified copy of computer-aided dispatch records for Skala’s traffic stop.

In June, Common Pleas Judge Linda A. Carpenter ruled the D.A.’s Office certified an incomplete dispatch record for Skala’s traffic stop as its only responsive record in a 2015 affidavit. The D.A.’s Office received the incomplete record from PGN in 2013.

However, the D.A.’s Office refutes that its affidavit certified the record from PGN, and is appealing Carpenter’s ruling in Commonwealth Court.

PNA’s brief urges Commonwealth Court to uphold Carpenter’s ruling.

“PNA files amicus briefs in cases where the outcome could affect the news-media industry, particularly when the case involves a PNA member or impacts the media’s ability to gather news and report on it,” said Melissa B. Melewsky, PNA’s media-law counsel. “In this case, the certification requirement of the state’s Right-to-Know Law is at issue. The court’s holding has the potential to impact how this provision of the law is interpreted and applied by agencies throughout the commonwealth.”

PGN’s appellee’s brief, filed on Nov. 30, maintains that if certification is revoked, the public won’t have sufficient proof that the D.A.’s Office doesn’t have a complete dispatch record for Skala’s traffic stop. 

PGN’s brief also notes the possibility that the D.A.’s Office engaged in “gamesmanship” when indicating in prior submissions that it was willing to certify dispatch records for Skala’s traffic stop.

“Judge Carpenter’s ruling holds the DAO accountable for its obligations under the Right-to-Know Law to make a good-faith effort to locate a complete [dispatch record for Skala’s traffic stop],” PGN concluded in its brief. “Her ruling also addresses legitimate concerns that the DAO engaged in gamesmanship in response to multiple Right-to-Know Law requests for a complete [dispatch] record.”

The D.A.’s Office has 14 days to file a reply brief.

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