AUSTIN (CN) – The State Bar of Texas sued the Texas Attorney General to try to stop him from giving “Texas Lawyer” magazine information about a Bar investigation of “a potential misappropriation of funds by a Bar employee who serves as a deputy clerk of the Texas Supreme Court.”
The Bar sued Attorney General Greg Abbott in Travis County Court. It “seeks relief from a decision of the attorney general requiring the release of information requested by the ‘Texas Lawyer.'”
“The matter is subject to an ongoing criminal investigation,” the complaint states. “No arrests have been made at this time. Because this case arises under the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA), Tex. Gov’t. Code Ann. §§ 552.001 et seq., discovery is allowed only in very limited circumstances and therefore, if discovery is allowed at all, it should be subject to discovery level three, by order of the court.”
Abbot’s office ruled on July 2 that bank statements and check copies from a State Bar account that reimbursed attorneys for overpaid annual dues could not be withheld from the magazine. The Bar had discovered several questionable checks from the account.
“The [Texas] Supreme Court and the State Bar immediately notified the Travis County District Attorney’s Office of the matter, which is under investigation,” the complaint states. “The District Attorney’s Office and the Austin Police Department took possession of records concerning the matter, indicated that they would likely need additional records, and requested that questions and requests for records regarding the matter be directed to them.”
“Texas Lawyer” reporter Angela Morris requested records from Abbott’s office in April. Two weeks later, the Bar wrote to Abbott, objecting to release of some of the information. Abbott ruled on July 28, and the Bar received the ruling on July 2.
“Although the decision indicated that much of the requested information could be withheld, the decision required the release of bank statements and copies of checks for the account at issue,” the complaint states. “The decision did so on the basis that such information can never, as a matter of law, fall within the law enforcement exemption. The State Bar seeks relief from that aspect of the decision.”
The State Bar particularly disputes Abbott’s finding that this qualified as a discretionary exception, not a mandatory one. It contends there are no such distinctions regarding the content of Texas Public Information Act exceptions and that, even if this were a discretionary exemption, the attorney general failed to indicate how the exemption was waived in this case.
“What is distinct about this case is the fact that the request does not simply seek information about all funds expended by the State Bar on a particular budget item,” the complaint states. “The request specifically seeks information that is subject to an ongoing criminal investigation, information the disclosure of which would clearly interfere with the ability of law enforcement officers and prosecutors to investigate the possible misappropriation of funds.”
The State Bar seeks declaratory relief. It is represented by Jennifer Riggs with Riggs, Aleshire & Ray in Austin.