Court order might further delay Turnpike ‘pay to play’ trial

Court order might further delay Turnpike ‘pay to play’ trial

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turnpike logoThe state Supreme Court may have made it a bit harder for the Office of Attorney General to bring its case against a former Senate leader and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission employees by the current trial date scheduled for mid-November.

The court on Monday ordered Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office to produce relevant material but protect confidential information contained in millions of documents obtained from the Pennsylvania Turnpike through subpoenas during three years of grand jury proceedings.

Ultimately, criminal charges were filed last year against former Sen. Bob Mellow, former Turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier, former Turnpike chairman Mitchell Rubin, and other former Turnpike employees, vendors and consultants in an alleged “pay-to- play” scheme that found political contributions equaled millions of dollars in state contracts.

Combing through the material – 12 terabytes of data likely to include 30 million documents – is likely to be a lengthy process and could delay the start of the trial, which has already been delayed from its August start date.

The OAG declined to comment. Matthew Haverstick, a lawyer representing the Turnpike, also declined comment.

The Turnpike Commission sought relief from orders from the Superior Court and the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas which “effectively allow the production of allegedly confidential and privileged material sought in discovery requests served upon the Office of Attorney General (the “OAG”) in these criminal cases…’ according to a concurring statement from Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille.

The Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas in April determined the OAG can turn over the material – which Castille called “obviously privileged and intensely private” – to defense attorneys who would determine which information “shall not be used” outside of the criminal matter.

The Turnpike Commission argued in its May brief that the disclosure without proper redactions amounted to the “potential ringing of a bell that cannot be unrung, i.e., the exposure to defendants of legally privileged information and statutorily protected confidential information that they have no right to see.”

Castille said the county trial court’s approach was “obviously inadequate.”

“It is one thing for a bell that cannot be unrung to sound in the narrow confines of a confidential, sealed grand jury investigation; it is quite another when it is in the context of a specific criminal prosecution, and the protection of private and privileged information consigned to defense counsel whose primary duty is to their specific clients and not to the Commission or its personnel,” Castille wrote.

He also noted the OAG received the documents three years ago, and “apparently has not yet reviewed those documents such that it can properly respond to defense discovery requests issued in its own prosecution…”

“In criminal matters, discovery is governed by specific rules, and the obligation is upon the prosecution to determine what material in its possession is properly discoverable,” Castille wrote in his statement, joined by Justices Thomas Saylor, Max Baer, Debra Todd, and Correale Stevens. Justice Seamus McCaffery did not participate.

–Kevin Zwick, Capitolwire