Judge denies request for names on AIDS-funding panel
by Timothy Cwiek
Jan 16, 2014 | 407 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Common Pleas Judge Leon W. Tucker has denied the request of a medical student for the membership list of an advisory panel that helps distribute millions of HIV/AIDS dollars in the region.

Last year, Jacob P. Fyda filed a state Right-to-Know Law request for the names of 12 people who serve on the city’s Resource Allocations Advisory Committee.

Fyda wants the names as part of an effort to make the local AIDS-funding process more open and accountable.

But in a one-sentence ruling issued Jan. 9, Tucker denied Fyda’s request. The judge didn’t elaborate on his reasoning for the denial.

The committee makes recommendations to city Health Commissioner Donald F. Schwarz for the distribution of millions of HIV/AIDS dollars throughout the nine-county region.

But six of the committee members must be HIV-positive, and the city argued that releasing anyone’s name would violate important privacy rights.

Fyda expressed disappointment with Tucker’s ruling. He has 30 days to appeal in Commonwealth Court. At presstime, he hadn’t decided whether to appeal.

Prior to issuing his ruling, Tucker heard arguments from both sides.

City attorney Jo Rosenberger Altman said releasing the membership list would violate city policy, along with multiple privacy-related laws.

Altman also cited several examples of the prejudice and discrimination that HIV-positive people face in society.

Tucker questioned whether releasing the committee members’ names would be tantamount to releasing their HIV status.

Fyda responded by noting that HIV-negative people serve on the committee. He said being on the committee doesn’t necessarily mean a person is HIV-positive.

But Altman said the general public would be able to discern the HIV-positive members if the list were released.

Fyda also said concerns have been expressed that the committee isn’t responsive to the needs of the African-American community.

But when questioned by Tucker, Fyda conceded he didn’t have more detailed information about the committee’s funding recommendations.

Tucker asked if the committee’s funding recommendations are available to the public. Altman said a definitive answer to that question would require “more analysis.”

It also remains unclear whether committee members must provide medical documentation of their HIV status, or simply disclose it verbally to city officials.

The committee doesn’t maintain minutes of its meetings, according to court records.

In a related issue, Altman faulted Fyda for filing two separate requests for the membership list. She said the two requests caused city staffers to expend an undue amount of time and effort on the matter.

Fyda apologized for filing two requests, explaining that extenuating circumstances prevented him from pursuing his first request in a timely manner.

He also noted that he flew in from Chicago to attend the hearing, arguing he’s also expending much time and effort on the matter.

Outside the courtroom, Fyda expressed an interest in working with city officials to restructure the committee. He also plans to seek the committee’s funding recommendations.

Additionally, Fyda emphasized that he has no desire to “out” the HIV-positive committee members.

Currently a medical student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Fyda said he hopes to complete his residency in Philadelphia.

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