State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

Commissioners Remove Judges From County Phone Plan

by on May 26, 2015 11:58 AM

Starting in July, the Centre County government will no longer supply judges with cell phones.

On Tuesday, the Centre County Board of Commissioners unanimously decided to force all non-county employees off the county’s cellular plan by July 1.  County administrator Tim Boyde said this mostly impacts area judges, who are technically state employees.

This move comes as the county plans to appeal an out-of-county judge’s rulings in lawsuits from two county judges and the district attorney. All three are suing the county for allegedly releasing their county cell phone records illegally in response to Right to Know requests.

Commissioner Chris Exarchos first proposed removing judges from the county’s cell phone plan earlier this month. He and commissioner Steve Dershem both expressed concerns about continuing to pay for a courtesy that has led to multiple lawsuits against the county.

Commissioner Michael Pipe said he didn’t want to disrupt the daily work of the county’s judges. He wanted to hear from Centre County President Judge Tom Kistler before making a decision.

“I had a discussion with Judge Kistler on election night, and he indicated that he and the other judges had been looking at arrangements other than the county funded system,” Boyde said on Tuesday. “We then got an email from him this morning indicating he was in favor of the proposal.”

Boyde says the switch only applies to cell phones, and that the county will continue providing computers and other office equipment. Exarchos estimates the change will reduce the county’s monthly phone bill by up to $400. The county currently pays about $100,000 each year on cell phone plans.

As the county prepares to appeal a judge’s ruling in the three Right to know lawsuits, another county employee has filed an appeal of his own.

Dave Crowley of the Centre County public defender’s office requested access to the phone records for a common pleas judge, but the county rejected that request because of a judge’s order in the three Right to Know lawsuits.

Crowley has since appealed the denial to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, arguing that the judge was wrong to prevent the release of the records.

Boyde says the county is aware of the appeal and has discussed it with its lawyers. He also says the county has notified the judge in question about the appeal, and is waiting for the Office of Open Records to make a decision.

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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