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First Amendment Clinic Represents Reporter Suing for Access to Mariner East Pipeline Protest Records

Represented by Cornell Law School’s First Amendment Clinic and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, freelance investigative journalist Daniel Schwartz filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania State Police on December 20, 2021, to obtain records related to the Mariner East Pipeline protests.

Schwartz seeks intervention from the Commonwealth Court to enforce a Final Determination from the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records that ordered the Pennsylvania State Police to produce certain law enforcement officers’ communications.

The lawsuit argues that Schwartz is entitled to access to these records, which relate to a matter of significant public interest: the Mariner East pipeline protests and the interaction of police with such protests.

“I’ve seen again and again in my reporting that access to public records is essential to both inform the public and hold the government accountable,” Schwartz said. “It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to get access.”

The Pennsylvania State Police denied Schwartz access to certain records in April 2021, claiming that they did not exist. In June 2021, the Office of Open Records ordered the Pennsylvania State Police either to produce the requested records or provide an affidavit describing that it conducted an adequate search for them. Since then, the Pennsylvania State Police has failed to comply with the order.

Clinic student Steven Marzagalli took the lead in drafting the petition with supervision from attorneys at the clinic and the Reporters Committee.

“I joined Cornell’s First Amendment Clinic for two reasons: the opportunity to learn from talented litigators, and to help the First Amendment bring us closer to the transparent ideals it promises,” said Marzagalli. “I am grateful to our client Dan for allowing me the opportunity to help him demand this transparency from the Pennsylvania State Police.”

Paula Knudsen Burke of the Reporters Committee, Associate Clinic Director Jared Carter, and Heather Murray, Managing Attorney of the Clinic’s Local Journalism Project, worked with Marzagalli on the enforcement action.

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