Court holds DA sought PIA clarification in good faith

Ogochukwu J. Okowo v. District Attorney, Harris County 14-15-00289-CV (Tex. App. Houston [14th Dist.], May 19th 2016)

This is a Public Information Act (“PIA”) case involving the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

Okowo was charged and pled guilty to assault.  After he completed his deferred adjudication he made an oral request with the District Attorney’s Office for the prosecutor’s file. The DA produced non-privileged information. Okowo later called then sent an email asking why statements from the complainant were not present.  He was told the notes taken regarding meetings with the complainant were prosecutor work product and confidential. No other statements exist. Five months later, Okowa submitted a written PIA request for the complainant’s statement along with some other information. The DA called then wrote Okowo seeking a clarification as to whether he was seeking additional information from his original oral request. Okowa responded he was seeking the same information but wanted to require the DA to seek a Texas Attorney General opinion. The DA submitted an opinion request. The AG opined the witness notes were prosecutor work product and protected from disclosure. Okowo brought this mandamus action to compel production. Both sides submitted summary judgment motions. The trial court ruled for the DA.

The court first determined the oral request did not trigger PIA requirements. Okowo asserted the oral request did not trigger the requirements but the DA’s voluntary response brought it under the PIA. The court disagreed. Next Okowo asserted the DA did not seek clarification in good faith but for delay purposes. The court analyzed all of the communication and uncontroverted evidence and determined the DA made a good faith request for clarification.  Therefore, the 10-day deadline for the District Attorney to seek an opinion from the Attorney General started to run from receipt of Okwo’s clarification.  Next, the court analyzed the information and determined the notes were prosecutor work product and protected from disclosure.  As a result, the trial court properly ruled the information was excepted from disclosure.

For the full opinion click here. The panel consists of Chief Justice Frost, Justice Boyce and Justice Wise. Memorandum opinion by Justice Boyce. The attorney for the Harris County District Attorney is Scott A. Durfee and Appellant Ogochukwu J. Okowo appeared pro se.

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