in Houston, Texas
Bexar county commissioner’s e-mail privacy appeal may go to high court
Monday, Aug 13, 2012, 04:15PM CST
By Mike Cronin
Private

Texas law states it. A Texas county district judge upheld it. And the Texas Attorney General affirmed it.

E-mails written by government officials from private accounts are public information and subject to state open records law.

But all that might change if Austin-lawyer George Hyde gets his way.

Hyde, the special counsel to Bexar County, filed an appeal on behalf
of Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson Thursday challenging an April ruling by Texas District Judge Scott Jenkins in Austin.

Jenkins’ rebuffed a November lawsuit filed by Adkisson that argued Adkisson was not required to provide e-mails with content relating to his job as a public servant to reporter Josh Baugh of the San Antonio News-Express. Adkisson contended the e-mails were private, written from a private account.

“Of course, I disagree with the ruling, and we will appeal it,” Adkisson told Baugh after the Jenkins decision. “I think there's a real service in this process to clarifying what the law is.”

A May 2010 Texas Attorney General ruling on the same issue apparently wasn’t clear enough for Adkisson.

“You state that even if e-mails exist that were utilized in the transaction of the public's business, the e-mails are not subject to the (Texas Public Information Act) because the county has no ownership or right of access to the information,” the state Attorney General’s office wrote to a Bexar County staff attorney, who had requested an opinion on Adkisson’s behalf. “We disagree. Information is within the scope of the Act if it relates to the official business of a governmental body and is maintained by a public official or employee of the governmental body.”

But Adkisson and Hyde have said they plan to go all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, if necessary.

They began that process by appealing Jenkins’ ruling on Thursday in Travis County district court.

It could be a smart strategy, Baugh reported in April:

"If he eventually asks the Texas Supreme Court to rule, Adkisson could find a sympathetic court — Hyde points out that the state's high court hasn't been particularly favorable to the AG in its recent open-records decisions.

It has ruled the Texas comptroller could withhold dates of birth for state employees under a common-law right to privacy, and that Gov. Rick Perry's travel details aren't accessible under the state's open-records law. "

Some, such as open-records expert Joe Larsen, a Houston lawyer and Texas Watchdog’s legal counsel, say the matter merits involvement by the Texas Legislature.

***

Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at@michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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Photo of Private by flickr user Tim Green aka atoach, used via a Creative Commons license.

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