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July 16, 2012 | By | Posted in General News

Attorney general probing turnpike commission for abuse

The Allegheny Mountain Tunnel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Photo by Andrew Bossi.

By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General is investigating the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission for potential abuse-of-power practices, according to recently unsealed court documents.

The subject of a three-year investigation is briefly described in a Court of Common Pleas order filed in April. That order came in response to a petition from the commission on whether communication with its lawyers is protected under attorney-client privilege.

In background of the case, the ruling said:

“Since 2009, the OAG has been conducting a grand jury investigation into whether the Commission, its Commissioners, and its employees violated any criminal statues in connection with its employment practices, procurement practices, and use of Commission resources to conduct political activities.”

In the order, Judge Barry Feudale denied the commission any right to prepare a “privilege log” for communications under attorney-client privilege, or hold back information. Now the commission is appealing that decision with the state Supreme Court, unsealing the Court of Common Pleas order and the original petition.

Along with its recent appeal, the commission also filed a petition to keep the documents sealed, which was denied.

The state Supreme Court’s opinion, dated July 9, says it will hear oral arguments, though no date was given. Justice Thomas Saylor dissented, saying the court has previously denied orders to review privilege in grand jury settings.

Commission officials would not comment on the case. But in its appeal, attorneys for the commission say they’ve operated in “full compliance” with the attorney general by turning over 140,000 pages of documents, including emails.

The attorney general’s office also has copies of the commission’s hard drive and Microsoft Exchange servers. In its petition, the commission said it did not believe any information had been searched that may be covered under attorney-client privilege.

A spokesman for the attorney general said the office could not confirm or deny any matters relating to a grand jury investigation.

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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