The Burtner case: Shhhh! Secret!
The public deserves to know as much as possible about a Butler man's federal lawsuit against Pennsylvania State Police over a firearm-purchase denial, whatever its merits. That's why the Trib intervened after both sides filed a joint motion to completely seal the case and why that motion must be rejected.
Jeffrey L. Burtner, 54, maintains he'd had no problem buying firearms until May 24, 2012, when he was kept from buying a hunting rifle. He contends that purchase was denied because state police records erroneously said he'd been involuntarily committed at Butler Memorial Hospital in 1992. The joint motion to completely seal the lawsuit cites medical and mental-health records and other personal information among case filings.
But typically, only those sorts of records are sealed, not a whole case, according to Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. She also says any settlement in this case can't legally remain confidential because it involves a state agency. Taxpayers do have a right to know how much of their money is spent that way.
As Trib attorney Ron Barber puts it, both sides “agreeing to make the entire lawsuit a secret” is “too much.” Allowing that would violate the principle of openness in government — and foster suspicions about what's being hidden and why.
For all these reasons, the Trib intervened — and U.S. Magistrate Judge Maureen Kelly must not allow this case to entirely evade public scrutiny.
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments â either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.