in Houston, Texas
Attorney General's ruling suggests trick for Texas agencies wanting to keep records closed: Just move them.
Wednesday, Apr 25, 2012, 01:19PM CST
By Steve Miller
lucy

Buried deep in this excellent narrative of a pursuit of a public record - in this case, the resume of a psychiatrist found guilty of having sexual relations with patients in another state - is a scary notion: Government agencies that want to hide records can stash them inside a file that is considered in previous rulings to be confidential.

The Austin American-Statesman did a series of stories on the state hospital system last year and among other things found that some doctors continue working while their cases are investigated, as well as discovering that doctors with shady records in one state can simply move on and practice in another.

We wrote about a similar case in which a Texas doctor complained to the cops that aliens were invading his head, yet he continued to practice in Florida. At the time, we were told that states often rely on news accounts to keep tabs on errants doctors. You can do some of your own reporting when it comes to doctors: For $10, you can get some kind of doctor history here.

Case in point for the Austin newspaper’s story was Gary Paul Kula, an Oklahoma shrink with a dubious past hired to work at a state mental hospital in Rusk. The reporters filed an open records request to gain access to Kula’s administrative personnel file, which includes work history. Unlikely to be released, as the story points out. But what is almost always fair game is the resume of a publicly-employed individual, be they doctor or electrician.

In a ruling last month, the story reports, the state AG’s office claimed the resume was in the larger personnel file and could not be released.  

The ruling was a rare misstep for the AG’s office, which is generally seen as friendly to the Sunshine cause. As the story points out, “the decision appears to violate several state Supreme Court rulings that make ‘clear that a routine business record such as the requested resume is not privileged simply because it is located in a medical committee’s file.'"

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Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of Lucy from the Pacific University College of Education.

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