in Houston, Texas
Austin-area 45 Southwest tollway vote in doubt due to error-filled report (updated)
Tuesday, Sep 18, 2012, 09:39AM CST
By Mike Cronin
road stripes

A vote on the future of a 3.6-mile toll road in Travis and Hays counties could be postponed after a study on the traffic effects of the potential highway was found to be riddled with errors, the Austin American-Statesman has reported.

“The report was rescinded because some of the data we received from (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) was found to be faulty,” Jennifer Duthie, the study’s author said in an e-mail to Texas Watchdog.

“We should be redoing the analysis in the next couple of months,” said Duthie, who is a research associate at the University of Texas Center for Transportation Research in Austin. The revisions may delay an October vote by CAMPO on whether to keep the roadway in a long-range planning document for the region.

CAMPO Director Maureen McCoy said that the report’s population and employment projections were “undoubtedly flawed.”

The study “assumed population and employment figures in 2025 in about half of the area studied in southern Travis County and northern Hays County would decrease over the next 13 years. That would fly in the face of predictions of continued growth throughout Central Texas,” the Statesman reported.

Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, a CAMPO board member, told the Statesman she didn’t think it prudent to make any decision on whether to build the road until the board has sound numbers.

Eckhardt joined a majority of the Commissioners Court in calling for Texas 45 Southwest to be taken out of CAMPO's 25-year plan.

"It's not just road warriors who are concerned with the validity of these statistics, and it's not just the environmentalists,” she told the American-Statesman.

CAMPO and the Texas Department of Transportation paid for the study, Duthie said.

The report is a product of UT’s Network Modeling Center, McCoy said. She could not provide the study’s specific cost. But McCoy said CAMPO has provided the center $2 million during a four-year period.

The mistake-ridden study was “not a wasted effort,” Duthie said. “The model (preparation) will be useful for the next round.”

Many Central Texans had hoped the report would reveal whether building the tollway would really mitigate road congestion, and whether it might pollute the Edwards Aquifer, which provides drinking water to 60,000 people.

Updated (5:41 p.m.): This version of the story includes a link to the flawed report.

***
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 money by flickr user athrasher, used via a Creative Commons license.

Recall petition in Sinton, Texas, must be released, AG rules
Thursday, Sep 13, 2012, 02:00PM CST
By Mike Cronin
AG

The city of Sinton must release a recall petition, the attorney general has ruled. The city failed to show that the information could cause harm to a city employee or that its release would violate a law shielding the personal information of police officers.

Supporters of the petition want to recall three Sinton City Council members who “fired City Manager Jackie Knox without explanation Tuesday,” the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports. That was after an unsuccessful move to fire Sinton City Secretary Betty Wood.

Knox accused the city council members -- Mayor Eloy Lopez, Linda Guzman-Alaniz and Michelle Soliz -- of meeting in secret to arrive at their decision to fire him. Lopez denied any closed-door meetings.

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

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Another election year defamation case: Brownsville lawyer sues opponent over statements in May primary
Thursday, Sep 13, 2012, 12:28PM CST
By Mike Cronin
gavel

A Brownsville lawyer is suing the judge who defeated her during the May Democratic primary for $3.3 million in damages.

Veronica Farias states in court documents that 138th District Judge Arturo C. Nelson “used his office and political influence to illegally disseminate information about her during a political campaign.”

The judge distributed information that had been expunged from state district court records because they lacked legal merit, Farias claims. Nelson committed that act “to humiliate, harass, slander and defame Farias),” according to the documents.

According to the Brownsville Herald:

The Texas Legislature enacted a law for the expungement of records to protect the reputation of falsely accused persons, the lawsuit states, to allow those persons to lead normal, productive and fruitful lives and careers.

The Code of Criminal Procedures also stipulates that a person who is an officer or employee of the state and who knows of an order expunging the records, commits an offense if he knowingly releases, disseminates or otherwise uses the records or files, according to the lawsuit.

Farias has requested a trial by jury.

Texas Watchdog reported on another election year defamation lawsuit in May. The Houston ad agency Rehak Creative Services claimed that state House candidate Ann Witt libeled the company via a website that chronicled campaign donations to Houston Rep. Jim Murphy, whom Witt lost to in the Republican primary for District 133. The case was dismissed on June 22.

And in Austin, Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, sued his GOP-primary opponent, former Texas Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, for what he said was a false statement about him. That case remains pending.

Wentworth defeated Jones in May, but lost to the third Republican candidate, Donna Campbell, in a July runoff.

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

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Former Socorro ISD trustee’s trial delayed, prosecutors allege Guillermo "Willie" Gandara Sr. accepted bribe in exchange for vote
Wednesday, Sep 05, 2012, 12:53PM CST
By Mike Cronin
gavel

The trial of a former Socorro mayor and school board president for public corruption charges was supposed to begin this week.

But with U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo disqualifying Guillermo "Willie" Gandara Sr.’s attorney, Joe Spencer, it’s not going to start until March.

Judge Montalvo agreed with Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Kanof that Spencer also representing the defendant’s son, Guillermo "Willie" Gandara Jr., in a federal drug trafficking case would be a conflict, the El Paso Times reports.

"We are ready to try this case and (Gandara Sr.) has the right to have his own lawyer, but the court ordered me off the case," Spencer, who has been the Gandaras’ family lawyer for about a decade, told the Times. "When I first started representing Mr. Gandara Jr., the information I got from the government was that there was no conflict."

The prosecutor told the judge that she plans on calling the son to testify against his father in the conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud. Gandara Sr., 62, is the only one of 11 defendants to plead not guilty to public corruption charges.

Prosecutors allege that in February 2006, Gandara Sr. allegedly accepted a $1,000 bribe from Access HealthSource spokesman Marc Schwartz intended for Gandara Jr.'s campaign for state representative in exchange for Gandara Sr.'s vote in support for Access as the Socorro Independent School District's health-insurance provider.

Gandara Jr., 37, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute marijuana and establishment of manufacturing operations to distribute marijuana last month. His sentencing hearing is Nov. 14.

***
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 gavel by flickr user Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, used via a Creative Commons license.

Revenue projections for Houston-area Metro called optimistic by outside accountants; Metro: ‘We will not build more than we can afford’
Thursday, Aug 23, 2012, 08:26AM CST
By Mike Cronin
piggy bank

When the federal government provides $900 million in grants, it’s a big deal.

And if that award represents the first-ever funding of its kind for Houston light rail, the requisite celebration includes Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff and members of the area’s congressional delegation.

Such was the scene in November as proponents for regional public transit lauded the taxpayer-funded gift for construction of two planned Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Houston light rail lines.

But some Metro critics such as Paul Magaziner say transit authority officials “knowingly misrepresented” data, such as projected fare revenues, to the Federal Transit Administration last year to obtain that $900 million.

Magaziner owns the printing business VCI Group/Color Reflections on Richmond Avenue. The planned University/Blue Line would run in front of his shop.

Metro officials identified 100 percent of sales tax revenues it collects and periodic fare increases as two sources of money in June 2011 FTA grant application documents. But Metro officials knew they could not count on the sales tax revenue unless voters allowed it during a referendum scheduled to occur on Election Day this November. And Metro President and Chief Executive Officer George Greanias has stated publicly that fare increases aren’t always politically realistic.

George GreaniasGeorge Greanias

“We can tell the federal government we’re going to increase (fares) by 8 percent every couple of years, but there’s a little thing called public opinion about that,” Greanias said in response to a question posed to him at a public forum in July at one of the Ripley House Neighborhood Centers. (Go to minute 57:00 of the linked video to hear the question and Greanias’ reply.) “I’d like to say that we could double the fares and raise a whole bunch of money. But we’d enjoy it for about 24 hours before we were all strung up from the trees.”

Greanias also said during his response that Metro’s “base scenario” contains no fare increases. The various financial scenarios that Metro has prepared all “have the same basis in fact,” he said.

“Even if we don’t increase the fares,” Greanias added, “we know that we can sustain what we’ve got because of the additional financial planning we’ve done.”

Greanias responded to questions from Texas Watchdog through Metro spokesman Jerome Gray.

“Metro went through a lengthy process that included an extensive review and FTA approval of $900 million in funds for a voter approved project. We are now more than halfway through building the two federally funded lines and a third locally funded line,” Greanias said in a statement.

Gray added in an e-mail that “we cannot say that future Metro boards will not raise fares.” And he pointed out that the financial forecast submitted to the FTA extends through 2035.

“Typically, fare increases are a reasonable assumption when developing a long-term (20-25 years) forecast,” Gray said. “Should fare increases not occur, Metro would certainly consider available revenue streams and determine how to proceed.”

Beyond that, farebox revenue pales in comparison to sales tax revenue, which makes up about 83 percent of Metro’s total revenue, Gray said.

Gray added, “We did not, and will not, knowingly present information that is not true.”

In the financial plan for the North/Red Line and the financial plan for the Southeast/Purple Line, Metro officials write that “base fares are assumed to increase by $0.10 in 2015, 2020, and 2025, and by $0.15 in 2030 and 2035.” That amounts to about an 8 percent increase every five years.

Yet Gray told Texas Watchdog in an e-mail that “Metro currently assumes that fares stay at their current levels and do not increase.” The Metro board “has not approved any change in fares.”

Harry RichardsonHarry Richardson

Transit expert Harry Richardson, of the University of Southern California, said long-term projections like those in Metro’s financial plans are always wrong.

“Who can predict what’s going to happen over the next 20 years? That’s crazy,” said Richardson, a USC professor and James Irvine Chair in Urban and Regional Planning. “Consultants always underestimate the costs of rail lines and overestimate ridership. If they don’t, they won’t get hired ever again. So they lie, lie, lie.”

Metro supporters say the greater Houston region will be harmed unless public transit becomes a viable transportation option. Automobiles can’t be the only way to get from here to there, say those such as Rebecca Perringer Tapick.

“We need multiple transportation solutions,” Perringer Tapick said. She is a board member of the Citizens Transportation Coalition, a nonprofit that focuses on transportation issues in the Houston region. “That’s the answer to problems such as road congestion, asthma and people getting to their jobs. If service people can’t get to their jobs, our economy will suffer.”

Metro based numbers on keeping greater share of sales tax

Metro’s June 2011 reports considered its finances in the context of projects under construction plus those still being planned, including 30 miles of light rail, 28 miles of commuter rail and 40 miles of rapid bus service.

Metro acknowledged in those reports that the sales tax projections were contingent on the agency recouping 100 percent of proceeds from its 1-cent sales tax after 2014, a plan that even the agency’s board is no longer pursuing.

A decision on sales tax collection amounts won’t be made by voters until November’s referendum. Because of that uncertainty, FTA officials requested additional cash-flow analyses to assess Metro’s ability to meet its matching grant obligations.

In July 2011, Deva & Associates, P.C, a Maryland accounting firm, provided the FTA with a revised financial report for the North/Red Line and a revised report for the Southeast/Green Line, the two projects the awarded $900 million in grants will fund. This is the first time those reports have been made public, Gray said.

The revised reports assume that the sales tax payments to other local governments continue, that Metro completes the three rail lines that are underway --- the third is the East End line along Harrisburg ---- and that other projects not yet begun “could be delayed if necessary should cash flow problems materialize.”

The accountants determined that while some of Metro’s numbers were optimistic, the agency was prepared financially to construct and operate the three lines and to operate and maintain the existing system.

“FTA carefully analyzed Houston Metro’s financial plan supporting the ($900 million grant application) for the North and Southeast Corridor light rail projects,” FTA spokesman David Longo said in an e-mail. “We concluded that Houston Metro had sufficient financial capacity to construct and operate these light rail systems.”

The reports explain that if sales taxes and fares fall short, the agency has other debt instruments, like commercial paper, available.

“Leadership at Metro has stated over and over that we will not build more than we can afford,” Gray said. “That remains true.”

That Metro officials assumed the transit authority would be able to keep all of the sales tax revenue a year-and-a-half before the results of this November’s referendum will be known doesn’t sit well with Houstonians such as Barry Klein, president of the Houston Property Rights Association.

“This is an agency that’s pursuing every avenue it can to pursue federal grants,” Klein said in a phone interview. Metro officials simply will cut back on bus services at the expense of rail expansion, he said.

“That’s where they’ll find their salvation if their projections of revenue flow don’t work out,” Klein said.

But David Crossley, president of Houston Tomorrow, says the $900 million in federal grants is justified. Houston Tomorrow is a nonprofit organization that focuses on growth and other urban issues.

“Why is the $900 million even an issue?” Crossley asked. “Look how hard the pro-sprawl developers fought that. And the federal government went ahead and awarded the grants, anyway. That tells me (FTA officials) are confident that Metro has the right stuff.”

Beyond that, Crossley said, “Economic prosperity for Houston and the region rely on continuing to grow the light rail and bus system. If we can’t continue to do that we’re looking at a Detroit situation.”

Detroit confronts an economic crisis that could force city officials to privatize public transportation and city lighting and reduce other traditionally public services such as garbage collection.

Metro fare box collections ‘aggressive,’ sales tax projections exceed historical average: Accountants’ reports

Like the June 2011 reports, the July 2011 reports include plans to increase fares. They also state that Metro assumes no ridership declines due to those fare increases -- even though ridership decline is common “during years of fare increases.”

None of the reports include an assessment of what would occur if Metro chose not to increase fares at all. But they did measure the transit authority’s varying financial position if growth projections for fares were off. Under a scenario where fare and sales tax revenues were five percent below projections and operating costs were 5 percent higher than projected, the accountants concluded that around 2018 the agency would need to dip into reserves or incur more debt.

“Overall, the projected farebox revenue is considered aggressive since Metro... did not provide any other supporting documentation to justify increases in ridership during years when fares are increased,” the July 2011 reports say.

The accountants with Deva & Associates also cautioned that the sales tax projections remained optimistic.

Metro estimates growth in sales tax collections of 4.2 percent to 6.1. percent through 2035, even though historical growth was on the low side of that range: just 4.5 percent over the prior 15 years.

“For 23 years of the 25-year cash flow, the projected growth rate for sales and use tax revenue exceeds the historical average,” Deva & Associates officials wrote.

The FTA requested the Deva & Associates reports specifically to show whether Metro would be able to afford its future projects if the transit authority must continue to pay a portion of its sales tax revenues to Houston, Harris County and 14 other cities for road construction and repair.

Board members on Friday approved the final draft language of a November referendum to allow voters to choose whether Metro should continue those “general mobility payments” or keep all of that money.

The ballot question proposes to continue the current agreement in which Metro distributes up to 25 percent of the sales tax revenue it collects every year to the other local governments, with this modification: If voters say yes, any sales tax growth above what the transit authority collects in 2014 would be split equally by Metro and those local governments for the following 10 years.

Metro board Chairman Gilbert Garcia estimated that if voters approve the measure, the amount of added revenue for the transit authority would total about $400 million, critical to paying down existing debt and adding as many as 200 new buses.

The referendum will be held against the backdrop of a debate between those who support expanding public transit in the region to spur economic growth and those who criticize Metro for not keeping all of the promises it made in 2003.

***
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 piggy bank by flickr user kenteegardin, used via a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons License
Like this story? Then steal it. This report by Texas Watchdog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. That means bloggers, citizen-journalists, and journalists may republish the story on their sites with attribution and a link to Texas Watchdog. If you do re-use the story, e-mail news@texaswatchdog.org.

Metro board wants voters in November to say yes to sales tax sharing plan (Correction Appended)
Friday, Aug 17, 2012, 05:25PM CST
By Mike Cronin
Metro

The Metropolitan Transit Authority board Friday voted 8-1 to ask voters in November to approve a sales tax sharing plan with its partner communities through 2025.

The compromise plan by board chairman Gilbert Garcia continues the current agreement in which Metro distributes up to 25 percent of the sales tax revenue it collects every year to Harris County, Houston and 14 other cities.

If voters say yes, any sales tax growth above what the transit authority collects in 2014 would be split equally by Metro and its service areas for the following 10 years.

Garcia estimated the amount of added revenue for Metro is about $400 million, critical to paying down existing debt and adding as many as 200 new buses.

“This will help us address two key areas of our mission: fiscal responsibility and ridership,” Garcia said.

In an odd twist, a no vote to reject the Metro proposal in November would actually allow Metro to keep all of the sales taxes it collects.

The Metro Board on Aug. 3 had approved a rough draft for a referendum asking voters directly to approve allowing Metro to keep all of its sale tax revenue.

Board member Christof Spieler said he voted against the referendum language because it does not give enough money to transit, but admitted “this is probably the best deal we can get in the political climate of 2012.”

Organizers for Keep Houston Moving Forward, a political action committee supporting Metro and transit projects created the PAC to seek voter approval for whatever plan the Metro Board approved.

"We want a 'Yes' vote in November for the referendum the Board approved on Friday," PAC spokeswoman Sue Davis told Texas Watchdog. "We are working closely with Metro Chairman Gilbert Garcia to support the ballot initiative."

Houston Rapid Transit JV, a contractor for Metro has donated $20,000 to the PAC, according to a Texas Tribune database.

It comprises the  Parsons Transportation Group, of Pasadena, Calif.; Granite Construction Company, of Watson, Calif.; Kiewit Texas Construction L.P. of Fort Worth; and Stacy and Witbeck, Inc., an engineering company based in Alameda, Calif.

Keep Houston Moving Forward hired Storefront Political Media, “a San Francisco-based Democratic political consulting firm,” for $42,000 for “consulting and message development,” documents filed with the Texas Ethics Commission show.

Mayor Annise Parker hired Storefront Political Media for her 2009 campaign, according to the company’s website. Parker appoints five of Metro’s nine board members: Garcia, Spieler, Vice Chairman Allen Watson, Carrin Patman, Dwight Jefferson and are the others.

The PAC also hired two other companies for consulting work: Houston-based Lone Star Strategies LLC for $5,000 and K Chace Consulting for about $14,000.

On the “yes” side of the referendum is Houstonians for Responsible Growth, a political action committee that would not like to see revenue cut for road construction and maintenance in Houston’s suburbs.

Kendall Miller, president of the development company, Tanglewood Corporation, has donated $6,000 to support it.

The two other real estate executives who have donated $6,000 to the Houstonians for Responsible Growth PAC are Stephen Sweet, South Texas division partner at Alliance Residential Company, of Phoenix; and James Gustafson of Houston’s The Gustafson Group.

Walter Mischer Jr., partner at Mischer Investments, L.P and part of the well-known Houston family line of developers donated $2,500 to the PAC.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly implied that the Keep Houston Moving Forward PAC wanted a 'no' vote on the November ballot initiative. Texas Watchdog regrets the error. In addition, an earlier version of this story linked to another company from the K Chace Consulting hyperlink. That hyperlink also misspelled the company. That link has been removed and the name fixed.

***
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 Metro by flickr user hyku, used via a Creative Commons license.

Order to block consumer e-mail complaints misunderstood, state insurance department says
Wednesday, Aug 15, 2012, 11:43AM CST
By Mike Cronin
Halt

Alex Winslow refused to accept Eleanor Kitzman’s contention last month that nothing could be done to remedy expensive homeowners insurance.

So the executive director of Texas Watch, a consumer advocacy nonprofit organization based in Austin, organized an e-mail campaign calling for help.

Texas Watch urged people to e-mail Kitzman, the Texas Department of Insurance commissioner, directly about her July statements to the state Senate Business and Commerce Committee.

But a senior Kitzman staff member “ordered the department's technology staff to prevent emails from people affiliated with Texas Watch... from being delivered to Kitzman,” according to an e-mail sent by the staffer and obtained through an open records request by the Austin American-Statesman.

"The department took decisive action to block emails from the citizens they are supposed to serve," Winslow told the Statesman.

Jerry Hagins, a spokesman for the Insurance Department, said that it was never the commissioner's intent to reject the emails.  "Her intention was to respond to them," Hagins said.

A sudden high volume of messages flooded Kitzman's email account and shut it down, Hagins said.

During the attempt to restore her e-mail, Kenneth Stock, assistant to the chief of staff, sent his own internal e-mail calling for a block to be put on mass e-mails to Kitzman. In hindsight, Hagins told the Statesman, the department should have created a folder to collect all of the form e-mails that poured in.

Kitzman has since responded to some of the e-mails, Hagins said.

Winslow called the response nothing more than “platitudes and generalizations” that did not begin to address how policyholders could deal with high-cost, low-coverage insurance policies.

***

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 Halt by flickr user Thomas Hawk, used via a Creative Commons license.

Cameron commissioners to learn about missing child support funds
Tuesday, Aug 14, 2012, 12:15PM CST
By Mike Cronin
Moneybags

As much as $10,000 in child support collected by the Cameron County District Clerk’s Office is missing and officials want to know what happened to it, The Brownsville Herald is reporting today.

County commissioners have scheduled a closed-door meeting at 9:30 a.m. Thursday to discuss the investigation, according to the meeting agenda.

After discovering the missing money, Aurora de la Garza, district clerk for the past 32 years, told the newspaper she reported the missing funds to the proper authority.

She declined to provide details of the matter, calling it a personnel issue.

Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos and Commissioner Ernie L. Hernandez Jr. were peeved not being told about the missing child support money sooner.

“It seems that the bloggers hear about it before we do,” Cascos told the Herald.

Cascos and Hernandez are expected to learn something about the investigation by County Auditor Martha Galarza during Thursday’s closed hearing.

***

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 Moneybags by flickr user .inKenzo. evonne@amoration, used via a Creative Commons license.

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.

South Texas judge Angelica Hernandez orders ethics training for lawyers, says they viewed texts on her cellphone
Friday, Aug 10, 2012, 04:05PM CST
By Mike Cronin
Texts

The fate of a man who has been sentenced to life in prison, and who has already served about four years, took a backseat Thursday to accusations that lawyers involved in the case had read text messages on the presiding judge’s cell phone.

“State District Judge Angelica Hernandez ordered prosecutor Doug Mann and defense attorney Eric Perkins to complete several hours of ethics courses before they return to her courtroom,” Michelle Villarreal of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported.

Hernandez charged that Mann picked up her cell phone while she was out of the room and shared the texts he read on it with Perkins.

The lawyers deny the accusations, and the district attorney’s office plans to take legal action. Perkins said the judge was out of the room, her phone beeped, Mann mistook the judge’s phone for his, picked it up and a text message appeared on the screen. The court manager walked in at that moment.

The judge said during the hearing that she didn’t accept the lawyers’ explanation. She recused herself from the rest of the proceedings.

Hernandez promised the man on trial, Carlos Gonzales, 27, that she would expedite the process.

“I realize you’ve been in jail a long time, and I feel bad,” she said.

Convicted of capital murder in 2008, Gonzales was sentenced to life in prison. But an appeals court overturned the ruling in February 2010 and ordered a new trial.

***

Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850.

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Photo of Texts by flickr user gcbb, used via a Creative Commons license.

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Comment of the Day: Still Missing the Good Ol’ Days “I was born in ’91, so I never got to experience the little mom and pop stores (hardware store or otherwise). I wish I could have...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
Nothing Really Happens with This Bed Bug Shutdown Notice and Implosion Threat Posted to a Westheimer Strip Center Mattress Store “The movie finally makes a reasonable amount of sense now” after 4 years of work on it, writes producer Joseph Graham on the...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
Swamplot Sponsor: Central Bank Swamplot’s sponsor today is Houston’s own Central Bank. Thanks for the continuing support! Central Bank has 4 (central) Houston...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
The Next Food Hall Coming to Downtown Houston Will Be a Storeful of Open Kitchens If you’re just coming up to speed on the whole food hall thing, remember this: It’s not a food court, it’s a food hall....
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
Amazon Will Swallow Whole Foods Whole For those who expected Whole Foods Market to shop itself to a fellow grocery store chain and not a powerful company experimenting with...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
This Century’s Rise in Home Prices; Rare Local Air Monitoring Equipment Exhibited at Museum Houston-Area Home Prices Have Increased Nearly 30% Since 2000, Finds Harvard Study [Houston Chronicle] Stream, AMD To Develop 5-Story...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
Daily Demolition Report: Feagan, and Again, and Again Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Report lists buildings that received City of Houston demolition permits the previous weekday. Demolition is...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
Blessed are the Poor: Examining opposition to debtors-prison legislation Texas State Sen. Paul Bettencourt was quoted by the Associated Press (June 11) criticizing debtors-prison legislation (SB 1913) which...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: The Vault 14759 Oak Bend Dr. [HAR] … Read...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
Bones Found in Holdout Heights House Attic Tell No Tales Fox26 has now updated its story from March on the mysterious circumstances surrounding the fate of Mary Cerruti, the former owner of the...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
Fast Indian Comes to the Strip Center End of 19th St. Just opened this week in Re:Vive Development’s new add-on strip center at 721 W. 19th St., just west of Shepherd Dr.: the first...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
A Personal Big Day at L'Auberge in Lake Charles In previous posts, including in my Lifetime of Running Cold history of my personal gambling, Iit's been mentioned that I've been...
Update:2 years 8 months
Cory Crow
Debtors-prison policies decried, DPS cuts license center hours, and other stories Here are a few odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention while mine is focused on preparing for a much-need break next week.SCOTUS...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Junk-science based false convictions in Houston lampooned by comedian Someone has finally grokked and managed to convey in an accessible, understandable way the unmitigated travesty of justice surrounding drug...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Just Liberty post-session roundup podcast Here's the latest Just Liberty podcast - this time reviewing criminal-justice reform legislation from the 85th Texas Legislature -...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Governor signs omnibus innocence bill to track informants, record interrogations Governor Greg Abbott today signed HB 34, Texas' latest omnibus innocence legislation. Grits explained in this post why the eyewitness ID...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Houston meeting of Texas Latino GOP PAC tomorrow evening From the InBox: The Texas Latino GOP PAC are the gatekeepers to the conservative Latino Community, for far too long GOP outreach to Latino...
Update:2 years 8 months
Big Jolly Politics
Sen. Joan Huffman to recap the 85th From the InBox: Join us THIS WEDNESDAY, June 14 (Flag Day!), for our meeting with State Sen. Joan Huffman, SD 17, who will be discussing...
Update:2 years 8 months
Big Jolly Politics
Gov. Abbott mistakes incarceration smell for "freedom" Governor Greg Abbott made a speech in Bell County recently declaring that, as one drove north out of Austin, one could notice a different...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Unanswered questions about law-of-parties beyond death penalty In our podcast the other day, Texas Defender Service Executive Director Amanda Marzullo estimated that 10 percent of death-row defendants...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Priorities The headline from the Victoria Advocate declaring that the Texas Legislature prioritized mental health treatment over incarceration is...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Legislative Session The 85th Legislative Session was different in many ways. Two things changed the narrative this session. First, Empower Texans successfully...
Update:2 years 8 months
Big Jolly Politics
Court trends advise tempered enthusiasm for HB 34 eyewitness ID reforms Does this sound like a suggestive photo array to put before a witness?A witness described being robbed at gunpoint by a “[b]lack male,...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
MAY 22, 2917 / Theodore Dalrymple on secularization and transcendence THE SECULARIZATION of Europe is hardly any secret. Religion's long, melancholy, withdrawing roar, as Matthew Arnold put it, is a roar no...
Update:2 years 9 months
Unca Darrell
MAY 10 / James B. Comey . . . . . . needed firing. Everything he did during the 2016 election was wrong. He was wrong . . . . . . back in July to release information...
Update:2 years 9 months
Unca Darrell
Droppin' F bombs, Beto O'Rourke style It's not often that a politician decides to start cursing repeatedly during speeches and interviews. But that hasn't stopped...
Update:2 years 11 months
Rick Perry vs The World
APRIL 5, 2017 / Weeding out the audience at the Alley is . . . . . . a feature, not a bug. Houston's Alley Theatre is running "An Act of God," a loosely dramatized collection of irreverent one-liners...
Update:2 years 11 months
Unca Darrell
Statewide primary rumors It's that stage of the election cycle where politicians are trying to figure out if they should run for something else or stay put. ...
Update:2 years 11 months
Rick Perry vs The World
Is Ted Cruz vulnerable? Is Ted Cruz vulnerable? Not really. Sure, he's not liked, Texans think Ted puts Ted first, his approval rating is upside down, etc...
Update:2 years 11 months
Rick Perry vs The World
MARCH 16, 2017 / Jim Webb on what it means to be a redneck, and . . . . . . why redneck culture matters. In 2004 Jim Webb wrote Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. Though the 2016 presidential...
Update:2 years 11 months
Unca Darrell
MARCH 3, 2017 -- Goodbye, and thanks, to Thomas Sowell THOMAS SOWELL, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and one of America's most important public intellectuals, retired from...
Update:3 years 1 week
Unca Darrell
March 2, 2017 / The poem our teachers got wrong TWO ROADS diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. Generations of commencement...
Update:3 years 1 week
Unca Darrell
FEBRUARY 27 / Eric Hoffer on . . . . . . baby boomers and alienated intellectuals. "SCRATCH AN INTELLECTUAL, and you find a would-be aristocrat who loathes the sight, the...
Update:3 years 1 week
Unca Darrell
2017 Project: January “Progress” There are two different ways to interpret my 2017 project: that it's a way more complicated New Years Resolution, or that it is essentially...
Update:3 years 1 month
Greg's Opinion
Ted Cruz's first senate term in a nutshell The National Review's Tim Alberta switched to Politico, and one of his opening pieces put Ted Cruz's first term in a nutshell It...
Update:3 years 1 month
Rick Perry vs The World
Andrea Parquet-Taylor named KTVT CBS 11 news director Former KHOU 11 assistant news director Andrea Parquet-Taylor named Vice President, News Director for KTVT CBS 11 Andrea...
Update:3 years 1 month
Mike McGuff
VIDEO: KPRC 2 10pm newscast (1-24-99) ...
Update:3 years 1 month
Mike McGuff
Democrats actually thought Wendy Davis was a serious candidate? Hat tip to Willisms: VIDEO- Wendy Davis being Wendy Davis: https://t.co/SHq3ACGVDJ #txlege— Will Franklin (@WILLisms) January 24,...
Update:3 years 1 month
Rick Perry vs The World
Luke Bryan to sing National Anthem as part of Super Bowl LI on FOX ​ Country music superstar LUKE BRYAN will sing the National Anthem as part of Super Bowl LI pregame festivities at NRG Stadium in Houston...
Update:3 years 1 month
Mike McGuff
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 7 years 9 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 7 years 9 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 7 years 9 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 7 years 9 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 7 years 9 months
Great addition, been burned too much by bad subs. "Google Play Announces Free Trials For In-App Subscription Services" http://t.co/TOLgRVak
TxDOT | 7 years 9 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 7 years 9 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 7 years 9 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
San Antonio Current | 7 years 9 months
Go ahead, chalk it up http://t.co/YMWpC5wM #satx #chalkitup
Caller.com | 7 years 9 months
Scanner: Bathroom on fire in 600 block of Virginia, CC fire dept. on the way
Ballotpedia | 7 years 9 months
Does your state offer early voting? Do you qualify? Find out! #election2012 http://t.co/eodxBYVD
Dallas Morning News | 7 years 9 months
Why a Dallas-area cycling coach believed Lance Armstrong was drug-free (video) http://t.co/gURdYkj1
Caller.com | 7 years 9 months
Dozens of illegal waste dumpers sentenced in Jim Wells Co.; others on the run: http://t.co/NgerCdsQ
Karen Townsend | 7 years 9 months
Consistently impressed w/raullabrador when I listen to him in Congressional hearings. #Libya
Cory Crow | 7 years 9 months
Diigo: United raises fares by up to $10 per round trip - Business - http://t.co/kWY8gwPV http://t.co/bw25JP5R
News 4 WOAI | 7 years 9 months
If you see news in or around San Antonio 'SEND IT' to @NEWS4WOAI here: http://t.co/uMqbMXQv OR email us at: NEWSDESK@WOAITV.COM
swamplot | 7 years 9 months
Mining Houston Garbage for Recycling and Compost Gold http://t.co/HMMBArMX
swamplot | 7 years 9 months
Daily Demolition Report: Tulane Highway http://t.co/JXmkSx11
KFDA NewsChannel10 | 7 years 9 months
Obama and Romney: Where they stand on the issues http://t.co/y3VrPfkM
Williamson County | 7 years 9 months
Mental Health Awareness Week FREE Webinar:"Understanding Depression-How to Help You or a Loved One" Thurs,Oct 11@1pm-https://t.co/YUWi19WY
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