AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn announced that he is suing Stephenville Independent School District for violating the Public Information Act. The lawsuit was filed today in state district court in Austin, and the lawsuit seeks a court order to compel the school district to release public information. The Office of the Attorney General had previously ruled that the information was public; the lawsuit alleges that the Stephenville school district intentionally violated the ruling.
"Public information rulings will be enforced," said Attorney General Cornyn. "We always prefer for state and local authorities to voluntarily follow the Public Information Act, but if they choose to ignore our rulings we will resort to court action."
The case began when a citizen requested a copy of some of the school district's legal bills. Stephenville ISD wanted to withhold the information under certain exceptions to the Act, including the attorney-client privilege. As required by the statute, the school district sent a letter brief to the Office of the Attorney General asserting the exceptions and explaining why the exceptions should apply in this situation. After reviewing the arguments, the statute, and the legal bills themselves, the Office of the Attorney General issued a written ruling denying the exceptions and requiring that all of the information be released.
Under the Texas Public Information Act, the school district had the right to appeal the ruling within 30 days. Stephenville ISD did not file an appeal. The lawsuit alleges that instead of appealing, Stephenville ISD chose to black-out some of the names and other key terms in the bills before releasing the documents. Since the ruling required the district to release all of the information, the lawsuit alleges that it was illegal for Stephenville to circumvent the attorney general's ruling by covering up portions of the legal bills. The purpose of the lawsuit is to force Stephenville to release the legal bills without any editing.
The lawsuit was triggered by a complaint to the Open Government Hotline, which is a service of the Office of the Attorney General. The Hotline's toll free number is 877/673-6839. In addition to receiving complaints, the Hotline also answers questions about the Public Information Act and the Open Meetings Act.
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