HARRISBURG - Accusations are flying in an increasingly acrimonious dispute between attorneys in the federal case over same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.
At issue is a request by the state that the plaintiffs divulge what their attorneys are calling "highly private and sensitive information."
In a letter to U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, the American Civil Liberties Union legal director in Pennsylvania, Witold J. Walczak, said the state's "invasive and overreaching" requests include whether the gay plaintiffs had been involved in opposite-sex relationships and the identity of sperm donors.
Joel Frank, managing partner of West Chester-based Lamb McErlane, the firm hired by Gov. Corbett to represent the state, fired back Thursday, calling the release of correspondence by the plaintiffs' attorneys a breach of privacy in the discovery process.
"We at all times conducted discovery in good faith with no intention or desire to embarrass plaintiffs in any manner," Frank said in a statement.
The statement said plaintiffs' counsel "misrepresented both the nature and intent of the discovery served," and said the suggestion that it sought the identity of sperm donors was "a publicity stunt."
Walczak said the requests spoke for themselves.
"To ask for biological parents in some cases will include sperm donors," he said. "They are not asking for friends or Facebook contacts. They are asking about intimate relationships."
Walczak defended the release of the information because the case involves the government and taxpayer money.
"The only reason this is out there is because they wouldn't talk to us," he said. "We're happy to drop it and move forward now that we're talking."
The e-mail war has escalated in recent months to the point where the judge was engaged to set a meeting schedule after the plaintiffs accused the state of dragging its feet on releasing information that it sought in preparation for the trial, scheduled for June 9.
Walczak said the sides eventually straightened out most of their issues - though not about the release of plaintiffs' personal information - during a phone meeting Tuesday.
"We will not produce that without a court order," he said.
The lawsuit was filed July 9 by the ACLU and other civil rights lawyers on behalf of a widow, 10 couples, and one of the couples' two teenage daughters. An 11th couple joined the suit last month.
Pennsylvania's 1996 Marriage Law effectively bans gay marriage and does not recognizing same-sex unions performed elsewhere. Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast where same-sex marriage is illegal.