Burns taking legal action to battle the Liquor Control Board’s secrecy

Hires founding executive director of PA Office of Open Records as attorney

EBENSBURG, Sept. 16 – On behalf of Pennsylvania citizens, state Rep. Frank Burns is taking legal action to battle the Liquor Control Board’s dogged refusal to comply with a request for public records. 

“I simply asked how many restaurant liquor licenses are able to be auctioned in each county, and it is shameful that we need a legal battle to obtain this necessary and basic public record,” Burns said. "The Office of Open Records ordered the release of this information, but the LCB refused to comply and instead went to court."

Forced to pay an attorney on his own, Burns has hired Terry Mutchler, the founding executive director of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, to handle his case before Commonwealth Court.

Burns, D-Cambria, said Mutchler and her seven years’ experience heading the OOR will be brought to bear on the LCB and its battery of taxpayer-paid attorneys in his quest to find out how many licenses the state agency has available in each county for auction, as allowed under Act 39 of 2016.

“Since the LCB wants the court to overrule the OOR, which recently sided with me, I can think of no one better qualified than Terry Mutchler to take up this fight for transparent state government,” Burns said. “She is synonymous with Pennsylvania open records and has been inducted into the National Freedom of Information Coalition’s State Government Hall of Fame.”

Burns said Mutchler gained a well-deserved reputation as a champion of government transparency during her 2008-15 tenure at the OOR, where she built from scratch the office charged with enforcing Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.

“I know firsthand that Terry has the passion to do what’s right and the legal know-how to handle my case effectively,” Burns said. “I was hoping the LCB would see the light and this wouldn’t go to court. But since they chose this route, I’ve hired the best person that I could possibly find. Unlike the LCB, I won’t be paying my attorney using taxpayer dollars.”

Mutchler began her representation of Burns today by filing an entry of appearance with the Commonwealth Court. She reiterated that she shares Burns’ desire to resolve this without litigation. 

“It’s a basic public record and it’s a bit sad that a state that has built a strong reputation for transparency is fighting over basic and black letter public record,” Mutchler said. “My hope is that the seasoned lawyers at the LCB and I can hash this out without costing taxpayers more money in a court argument. It’s unnecessary when the law is clear and the OOR reviewer pointed out the LCB’s faulty argument and ordered release.” 

This quest for openness began when Burns filed a Right-to-Know request with the LCB, which refused to provide the information. He then took the matter to the OOR, which issued a final determination in his favor. The LCB then appealed to Commonwealth Court, asking for a reversal of the OOR decision.

One of the reasons Burns wants the information is to help him decide whether to support legislation that would increase the number of liquor licenses in Pennsylvania. He believes that knowing the number of licenses the LCB is already holding for auction is critical to making an informed vote on such proposals.

Mutchler added that in most states an elected official would not be required to file a record request. Elected officials are automatically by law entitled to public records necessary to do their jobs.