PGN seeks complete case file in Morris open-records request

PGN this week asked a state agency to add four documents to the case file relating to the paper’s open-records request for Nizah Morris 911 recordings from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. 

Between January-April, the state Office of Open Records handled PGN’s request for Morris 911 recordings. On April 12, the paper filed an appeal for the recordings in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.

On July 18, Common Pleas Judge Abbe F. Fletman ordered OOR to submit a compilation of filings that were generated when OOR handled the case — known as a “certified record.” 

On July 31, OOR submitted a certified record to Fletman, but omitted two of PGN’s filings. The omitted PGN filings were submitted to OOR on Feb. 23 and April 10. 

The Feb. 23 filing objected to an allegation by the D.A.’s Office that PGN engaged in “abuse” during OOR-sponsored mediation. The April 10 filing reiterated PGN’s concern that the D.A.’s Office didn’t conduct a “full and accurate” open-records search for Morris 911 recordings.

Two filings from the D.A.’s Office also were omitted from OOR’s certified record. They were submitted to OOR on Feb. 23 and April 7. PGN asked OOR to include those filings in the certified record. 

Justin F. Robinette, an attorney for PGN, expressed hope that OOR responds favorably to PGN’s request. 

“We believe it’s important to have a full and complete record containing all prior filings with the OOR, because the judge is entitled to look at all of the evidence again on appeal when making a decision,” Robinette said.

“The D.A.’s Office has threatened to seek legal fees and costs from PGN,” Robinette added. “So we want to make sure nothing is taken out of context.” 

As of presstime, OOR hadn’t responded to PGN’s request.

Morris was an African-American trans woman found with a fatal head wound in December 2002, shortly after a police “courtesy ride” in the Gayborhood. Her homicide remains unsolved, and the D.A.’s Office says it has an “open” investigation. 

In the past, the D.A.’s Office indicated it doesn’t have any Morris 911 recordings in its “possession, custody or control,” which is a legal phrase to denote an agency’s records. But in 2016, the OOR determined a nine-page transcript of Morris 911 recordings created by PGN is in the D.A.’s “possession, custody or control.”

PGN made the transcript based on Morris 911 recordings received from a private citizen — and shared the transcript with the D.A.’s Office in 2009.