TV Station Loses Appeal for School-Scandal Records

     (CN) — The Pennsylvania Superior Court declined to overturn the denial of a Pittsburgh TV station’s request for records about alleged sex between high school teachers and students because the station already has the records.
     The court dismissed the motion of WPXI — Channel 11 in Pittsburgh — as moot because the station “has obtained the requested documents.”
     Plum High School was the epicenter of the allegations in early 2015.
     WPXI reported in July 2015 that prosecutors accused Jason Cooper, one of the accused teachers, of grooming one of his students. They claimed that Cooper had used phone calls, text messages, sleepovers and kissing as a prelude to a sexual relationship after the girl turned 18.
     The station also reported that teacher Joseph Ruggieri had been accused of sexual contact with a student.
     In addition, WPXI reported that teacher Drew Zoldak was charged with intimidation for identifying Ruggieri’s alleged victim in front of her classmates.
     Later that year, Channel 11 reported that the lawyer for teacher Michael Cinefra asserted that a 15-year-old girl had “instigated” sexual contact with his client.
     In May of this year, WPXI reported that Plum school superintendent Timothy Glasspool was offered paid leave after a grand jury found that administrators had apparent knowledge of the sexual activity.
     While pursuing the story, the station asked the court for access to a warrant authorizing a search of the school, as well as an order sealing the affidavit of probable cause that supported the warrant.
     The trial court denied the station’s request in May 2015. WPIX appealed, but the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled Thursday that a controversy no longer existed.
     “WPXI acknowledges that it has access to both documents,” Retired Senior Judge Eugene B. Strassburger III stated, noting that the order and the warrant are both available online. “Thus, a determination in WPXI’s favor would have no practical effect, and the question is moot.”
     The judge declined to address the merits of the station’s case.
     “Although the issues raised by WPXI appear to be of public importance, we are not persuaded that they are apt to avoid review,” Strassberger wrote. “It does not seem likely to this court that repeated attempts to intervene and obtain documents will be denied by a trial court, but each time another source will provide the sought-after documents before an appellate court is able to review the propriety of the trial court’s actions.”
     WPXI did not respond Monday to a request for comment on the ruling.

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