Judge Rejects Newspapers Attempt to Halt Secret Meetings Between Council and Nutter

Common Pleas Judge Gary DiVito has denied a request by the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer for an injunction against future closed-door budget briefings between the mayor and a quorum of City Council members.

Citing the state Sunshine Law, which requires most government meetings with a quorum of officials to be held in public, the owner of the newspapers sued Wednesday after reporters were denied entry to a budget session with the mayor and Council.

Nutter – who campaigned with the promise of a more open and transparent government  – insisted the meeting was appropriate because no official action would be taken. But the next day, he transferred seven budget-related bills to Council for their approval.

DiVito seemed to rule largely on technicalities. He wrote that since no action was taken in the meeting, there was nothing for him to stop. He also said the newspapers sued Nutter and Council President Anna Verna, rather than City Council as an agency, even though the Sunshine Law applies to agencies. And he said no evidence was offered on what happened in the meeting.

“Anything Plaintiff offered would be pure speculation which would provide no legal basis upon which this Court could determine the legality of the subject meeting,” DiVito wrote.