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Good Grief: Access to Coroner Records


Jul 19, 2023





As a reporter or editor, are you finding access to your county coroner records closed as tightly as a casket?  Is it difficult to get the cause and manner of suspicious deaths in your community? During this session, media lawyers Melissa Melewsky and Paula Knudsen Burke will explain what information you are entitled to and what to do when the public’s right to know is endangered.  Open records access to coroner reports as well as recent challenges will be reviewed.

Presented in conjunction with Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.


  • Melissa Melewsky, Esq., Media Law Counsel, PA NewsMedia Association
  • Paula Knudsen Burke, Esq., Local Legal Initiative Attorney – PA, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
  • Sasha Dudding, Esq., E.W. Scripps Legal Fellow, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

A discussion with two experienced reporters will be included in the session.  Sharing their experiences with obtaining coroner records are:

  • Joshua Vaugh, Investigative-Enterprise Reporter, PennLive/The Patriot-News, Harrisburg
  • Brittany Hailer, Director, Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism

This complimentary GoToWebinar session is scheduled to begin promptly at 12 noon, eastern time, on Wednesday, July 19.  Registrants must have both a computer and audio/phone in order to participate.

A confirmation with log in instructions will be emailed to each registrant immediately upon registering and a reminder email will be sent one day and one hour prior to the session.

Register Now


July 19, 2023
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association Foundation

Melissa Melewsky is Media Law Counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. She provides legal advice and advocacy to newspapers across the Commonwealth on a wide range of legal topics affecting the newspaper industry. Melissa also advocates for newspapers as an amicus curiae in the Pennsylvania judicial system in cases affecting the newspaper industry including access to government records and meetings, First Amendment rights, and defamation. Melissa has been a guest lecturer throughout the Commonwealth for media and civic organizations as well as government agencies and the court system on the Right to Know Law, the Sunshine Act and other laws that affect the media industry. She is a former co-chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Bar Press Committee and is currently an active member.  Prior to joining the Association, Melissa was the judicial law clerk to the Honorable William Harvey Wiest, Northumberland County Court of Common Pleas. She received a B.A. in Telecommunications from the Pennsylvania State University and a J.D. from Widener University School of Law.

 Paula Knudsen Burke is a RCFP Local Legal Initiative staff attorney. She joined the Reporters Committee in 2020 from LNP Media Group, Inc. A licensed Pennsylvania attorney for two decades, Paula has worked in both the legal and media fields. In 2017, she helped launch The Caucus, a watchdog publication covering state government and politics. She also led the investigations and enterprise team as an editor at LNP Media Group, Inc., the publisher of The Caucus. Before joining The Caucus, Paula was the director of government affairs at PNA, where she worked on legislative issues impacting print and digital news outlets in the state, including advocating for improvements to the state’s Right to Know Law and Sunshine Act. Paula has also worked in private practice and nonprofit law, starting her career as an Equal Justice Works Fellow.  Paula is a graduate of the Dickinson School of Law of the Pennsylvania State University. She also received her undergraduate degrees from the Pennsylvania State University, in both journalism and Spanish. Paula is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Bar/Press Committee and the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition.

Sasha Dudding is the 2021/23 E.W. Scripps Legal Fellow at RCFP. She assists the organization in its litigation and amicus work, focused on issues including bolstering access to public records and proceedings.

Before joining the Reporters Committee, Sasha clerked on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Sasha is a 2020 graduate of Yale Law School, where she was a member of the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, representing journalists and others in state and federal access litigation and related matters. She also served as the Forum, Features and Book Reviews Executive Editor of the Yale Law Journal, where her Note, Spinning Secrets: The Dangers of Selective Declassification, was published.

Prior to law school, Sasha was a Project Analyst at Mintz Levin in Boston. She graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College in 2015, earning a bachelor’s degree in Government and working as a managing editor on the school’s daily newspaper.