Hempfield E-Mail Leak Probe Result Stays Secret

By Gazarik, Richard | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 7, 2007 | Go to article overview

Hempfield E-Mail Leak Probe Result Stays Secret


Gazarik, Richard, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


The Hempfield Area School District will not release the results of a taxpayer-funded investigation into the leak of intimate e- mails, taken from a school computer, regarding an alleged affair between two district employees.

District Solicitor Dennis Slyman said the report is covered by attorney-client privilege, which protects communications between a lawyer and client.

"We've not giving it up," Slyman said.

Law professor Bruce Ledewitz, however, said attorney-client privilege doesn't apply in the Hempfield Area case.

The privilege applies only to litigation, such as a lawsuit, to prevent any type of paperwork produced by an attorney for a client being subject to pretrial discovery by the opposing side, said Ledewitz, who teaches state constitutional law at Duquesne University Law School in Pittsburgh.

"First, this isn't litigation," Ledewitz said. "Second, the privilege is waivable by the school board. The client can waive attorney-client privilege. They're acting like this is a rule. The board can just waive it. The attorney can't release it."

Terri Henning, an attorney for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association in Harrisburg, said "it's not an uncommon practice" for government agencies to hire lawyers to prevent the public release of certain records by claiming the report is a "work product."

School board President John Henry said he sees no need to release the report because it doesn't reveal the source of the leaks.

"I don't feel any need to," Henry said. "That's up to Denny Slyman. He said no."

Henning disagreed.

"If there's no problem, then why not simply release the report?" she said.

The state's Public Records Act says any document created as a result of the "receipt or disbursement" of public money is considered a public record.

There are some exceptions, however.

Any report that would disclose the results of an investigation undertaken by an agency as part of its official duties or those specifically barred from release by state law or court order doesn't have to be released.

The school board decided in a closed-door meeting in May to spend public money to learn who sent school directors copies of intimate e- mails -- purportedly exchanged during an extramarital affair between two district employees. …

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