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UPDATE: Bucks County Mom Wins Partial Victory in Open Records Case Over COVID Rules

Bucks County mom Megan Brock won a partial victory over the county government in her open records case Friday before a Common Pleas judge.

Brock, of Richboro, is seeking emails from August 2021, when the county suddenly overrode COVID-19 guidance issued by its own Health Department Director, Dr. David Damsker. He said the science supported more parent-friendly, less-restrictive policies, a view confirmed in the following months. But he was overruled by Bucks County bureaucrats who imposed stricter state guidelines for masking, lockdowns and vaccinations, all unsupported by science.

The state Office of Open Records has already ordered the county to turn emails and other correspondence over to Brock, but Bucks County sued in an attempt to keep information about how they came to the override decision secret from the public. They argued Brock was not entitled to the records, despite the OOR ruling in her favor.

The county claimed the records were either attorney-client privilege or part of a “pre-decisional” process and therefore not subject to the right-to-know act.

Judge Denise Bowman heard the case and reviewed the records in her chambers. She ruled partly in favor of Brock and ordered the county to turn over some of the requested records and to pay her lawyers $1,500.

But the judge also found that the county had the right to keep some records private.

James O’Malley, a spokesman for the county, said the county’s lawyers were still in the process of reviewing the ruling on Friday evening.

After the ruling, Brock said, “This was a win for every person in Bucks County, regardless of political affiliation. Government transparency is a critical component of our constitutional republic. No one should be abused by their government or have their weaponized against them for simply doing their due diligence as a responsible citizen.

“Our kids have been thrown into crisis due to the harsh Covid-19 lockdowns and prolonged school closures. They deserve answers as to why and how these decisions were made, so that we can do better and learn from the mistakes of the past,” said Brock.

“I’m so thankful for this outcome and I can’t adequately express my gratitude to Judicial Watch and my attorneys, Chad Schnee and Meredith DiLiberto, for their exceptional representation,” she added.

Schnee said, “This decision was a victory for accountability and transparency, and we are very pleased that the judge imposed the maximum civil penalty allowed under the Right-to-Know Law.”

Pat Poprik, chair of the Bucks County Republicans also commented, calling it “a clear victory for transparency and the right of citizens to seek answers from those who should be representing them”.

“For nearly a year now, Democrats Bob Harvie and Diane Ellis-Marseglia have been using county resources to overrule decisions by the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records in order to hide communications and documents generated when the county’s guidance for schools related to COVID suddenly changed in the midst of the pandemic.  After a review of the hidden documents, the court sided with Brock.

“Pamela Van Blunk, the county controller, called the litigation the county brought against Brock a ‘waste of taxpayer dollars. Harvie and Ellis-Marseglia are irresponsibly spending taxpayers’ money to hide communications that the public—including Brock—have a right to see,'” said Poprik.

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Court Hears Bucks County Mom’s Open Records Case

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.


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