City failed to establish compelling reason to keep informer, victim, and witness information from release under PIA

Greg Abbott, Attorney General of Texas v. City of Liberty, Texas, 13-13-00614-CV (Tex. App. – Corpus Christi February 26, 2015)

This is a Public Information Act (“PIA”) lawsuit regarding phone records belonging to a city police officer.

City of Liberty received a PIA request for all calls made or received from the specific number belonging to a liberty police officer for six months. The City submitted a request to the AG for an opinion citing the information was excepted under the informer’s privilege and ongoing criminal cases exception. The AG determined the City did not properly comply with requesting an opinion therefore waived all exceptions. The City filed suit under the PIA asserting a compelling reason to still withhold the information. The trial court determined the officer’s name and the numbers used must be released, except for the phone numbers of victims, witnesses, and informers which could be redacted.  The AG filed a notice of appeal.

The court held there is no evidence to support the City’s contention that either exception protects third party interest which would justify withholding despite non-compliance. “The City had the burden to show both an exception to disclosure and a compelling reason to withhold the information, but it has made no effort to establish a compelling reason to withhold the requested information apart from the fact that the information falls within the exceptions it asserted.” The court further held the City did not raise the issue of constitutional privacy or common-law physical safety exception in its summary judgment so it could not raise those issues now on appeal. As a result the trial court erred in allowing the redaction.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Justice Benavides, Justice Perkes, and Justice Longoria. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Longoria. The attorney for the City is listed as Brandon S. Davis.  The attorney listed for the AG is Matthew Entsminger.