After a brief hearing Thursday, a judge delayed ruling on whether Bucks County can continue to hide records declared public by the state Office of Open Records (OOR).
Richboro resident Megan Brock is seeking emails from August 2021, when the county suddenly overrode COVID-19 guidance issued by its own Health Department Director, Dr. David Damsker, who said the science indicated more parent-friendly, less-restrictive policies. Instead, Bucks County bureaucrats replaced Damsker’s rules with stricter state guidelines for masking, quarantines, and vaccinations.
The OOR ordered the county to turn those emails over. Instead, county officials went to court.
Judge Denise Bowman on Thursday did not say when she would issue the final ruling on the matter.
Keith Bidlingmaier, a lawyer for the county, claimed the records Brock seeks are either covered by the attorney-client privilege or else “pre-decisional” and therefore exempt under the right-to-know law.
Meredith Di Liberto, a lawyer for Judicial Watch, a public interest law firm also representing Brock, told DVJournal the county “relied on boilerplate” for its arguments.
“It boils down to saying they’re exempt (from turning over the documents) because they say so,” said Di Liberto.
Outside the courthouse, Brock was joined by state Sen. Jarrett Coleman (R-Bucks/Lehigh) and Jamie Walker, another mother who is being sued by the county in an attempt to deny her documents the state OOR ruled she should be given.
“When that guidance was abruptly changed after a letter was sent by the Wolf administration to our county commissioners, I myself and another mom, Jamie Walker, started asking questions,” Brock said.
“We came to the (county) commissioners’ meetings. We wanted to know why our kids were suddenly going to be kept out of school through long quarantines, why they were suddenly going to have their faces (covered) by forced masking, and instead of having our questions answered, our county commissioners bullied us, they called us names.”
Brock also claimed that county commissioners “actually blocked my phone number,” preventing her from contacting them.
After a long process, Brock won her right-to-know request at the state level.
“However, instead of giving those records, Bucks County sued me three times and sued Jamie Walker twice to withhold records,” said Brock. “This is a huge issue for every citizen in Bucks County, regardless of political affiliation.”
“Transparency is not a political issue,” Brock said. “It is an issue that protects the foundation of our constitutional republic. And it is a right of every citizen to know what is going on behind closed doors.”
“The public deserves to know how local county and state governments made decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Coleman argued. “As chairman of the Senate intergovernmental operations committee, my primary concern is understanding the decision-making process and how much independence the county health director had.”
DVJournal asked Coleman if his committee plans to subpoena the county commissioners to testify. “We certainly have the ability to do so,” said Coleman.
“Under decades of Republican leadership, this county never sued a citizen to hide the commissioners’ actions,” Walker said. “In a few short years under Democratic leadership, these types of lawsuits have now become commonplace in our county.”
“I asked for the emails under Commissioner (Diane) Marseglia’s second, unpublished county email address,” said Walker. “I won these emails already. The county refuses to release them to me. They’re making me hire an attorney and fight them in court. Bucks County residents’ tax dollars are being used to fund the frivolous lawsuits, and this is not how our government should operate.”
“Commissioner Marseglia herself said she will not stop the appeals because she wants to protect her friends,” said Walker. “All I want is the truth. I want to understand what was going on with our county’s highest elected officials during the creation of the health guidance in 2021. This guidance impacted 80,000 children.”
The guidance “endangered children. It contributed to massive learning loss. And it’s contributing to the current mental health crisis of our children today.”
The commissioners are “asking a judge to change the transparency law. They’re asking a judge to make the entire state of Pennsylvania less transparent for all of its citizens. Citizens are entitled to find out how our elected officials make decisions, especially when those decisions impacted so many children in Bucks County.”
Walker’s case is listed for trial on May 30. She is also represented by Schnee but not by Judicial Watch.