Administrative records of county court at law not subject to PIA says Houston’s First District Court of Appeals

Enrique Ramirez v. Ed Wells, Court Manager, 01-17-00262-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [1st Dist.], March 27, 2018)

This is a Texas Public Information Act (“PIA”) suit where the 1st District Court of Appeals in Houston affirmed the trial court judgment in favor of the court administration defendants.

Ramirez was removed from the eligibility list to receive criminal court appointments in the Harris County Criminal Courts at Law, after having been on the list for some time. Ramirez filed a PIA to see all records related to his removal. The Court Manager informed him the judiciary is exempt from the PIA and the rules of judicial administration protects release of internal deliberations of the court. The question under Rule 12 is whether the documents are court administrative files vs judicial records. Ramirez appealed to the Office of Court Administration (“OCA”), arguing that the decision to remove him from the list was an administrative decision and thus the information he requested did not constitute judicial records. The OCA agreed they were administrative, but determined it only had authority over judicial records so could not grant Ramirez any relief. Ramirez filed a petition for writ of mandamus under PIA to compel release of the records. After opposing summary judgments, the trial court granted the Defendant’s MSJ and denied Ramirez’ MSJ. Ramirez appealed.

Under the PIA, the judiciary is specifically excluded in the PIA’s definition of “governmental body.”  Access to information collected, assembled, or maintained by or for the judiciary is governed by the rules adopted by the Supreme Court of Texas or by other applicable laws and rules. The record demonstrated that regardless of whether the records were “judicial” or “administrative” they qualify as “information produced, maintained, or assembled by the judiciary.”  Access is therefore not governed by the PIA. Since Ramirez’ petition only seeks mandamus under the PIA, the trial court properly denied his summary judgment.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack, Justice Massengale and Justice Brown. Memorandum Opinion by Chief Justice Radack.  The attorney listed for Ramirez is Timothy A. Hootman.  The attorney listed for the Defendants is Stephen A. Smith.