Texas Observer Pushes for Public Records Withheld by State Police

Austin, TX October 17, 2007 — Invoices obtained by The Texas Observer reveal the Texas Department of Public Safety has spent more than $160,000 in a lawsuit to keep information from the public. The invoices are posted at www.TexasObserver.Org

On the morning of May 23, 2005, the Texas State Capitol was rife with rumors that multimillionaire James Leininger was behind the House chamber pressuring lawmakers to vote for his pet project, school vouchers. When the Observer attempted to obtain surveillance tapes that could confirm the meetings, the Texas Department of Public Safety blocked the release, using the argument that it would compromise homeland security.

The Texas Observer appealed the decision to the attorney general’s office. The AG agreed with and ordered DPS to release the video. Instead of complying, DPS contracted with a high-priced law firm to sue the state of Texas. On November 20, 2006, the agency lost and District Judge Stephen Yelenosky ordered DPS to release the tape. Instead, the state police decided to waste more taxpayer money.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has now spent more than two years and almost $166,000 in lawyer fees fighting the Texas Observer‘s request to release information that should clearly be made public. The Observer has obtained invoices from the law firms defending DPS and has posted them at www.texasobserver.org. The Observer asks that readers decide for themselves if DPS is spending their money wisely.

The Texas Observer point of view?

“DPS — invoking a patently absurd argument that it is protecting us from terrorists — soldiers on in stubborn commitment to a flawed policy, refusing to admit that it is wrong. That recalcitrance is costing taxpayers a pile of money and usurping the public’s right to know what goes on in their state Capitol.”

Meanwhile, the case is scheduled to be heard on October 24 before a panel of three judges at the 3rd Court of Appeals. A DPS official has said that the agency is more than willing to take it all the way to the Texas Supreme Court if it loses the appeal.

The Texas Observer writes about issues ignored or underreported in the mainstream press. Its goal is to cover stories crucial to the public interest and to provoke dialogue that promotes democratic participation and open government, in pursuit of a vision of Texas where education, justice and material progress are available to all. Every two weeks, The Texas Observer provides a view of Texas found nowhere else — sharp reporting and commentary from the strangest state in the union!

Contact: Julia Austin, 512-477-0746.

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