DALLAS (CN) - Dallas County can keep its jail booking records secret because they are maintained for use by its courts and not subject to the Texas Public Information Act, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ruled.
Paxton issued his non-binding opinion on Nov. 13 after The Texas Tribune asked Sheriff Lupe Valdez for booking information for all non-U.S. citizens since 2007. Valdez refused the request and asked Paxton to weigh in, the Tribune said Monday.
"Based on your representations, we conclude the submitted information is information collected, assembled, or maintained by or for the judiciary," Assistant Attorney General Joseph Keeney wrote in the two-page opinion. "Thus the submitted information is not subject to the act and need not be released under the act."
Keeney explains that TPIA's definition of "governmental body" does not include the judiciary, that the courts are instead "governed by rules adopted by the Supreme Court of Texas or by other applicable laws and rules."
Paxton's opinion comes two months after Valdez controversially announced she would no longer honor immigration-hold requests outside of a 48-hour federal detainer window for inmates accused of minor criminal offenses. Sixteen Hispanic plaintiffs sued Valdez in Federal Court on Oct. 26, alleging they were unconstitutionally held on such immigrations holds for months in spite of having bonded out of jail already.
Gov. Greg Abbott - a former Texas attorney general - blasted Valdez for the policy change, accusing her of enacting "sanctuary-city policies" that puts Texans in danger. He threatened to withhold grant money from sheriff's offices that refuse to comply with federal detainer orders.
Texas Freedom of Information Foundation board member Joseph Larsen, an attorney, told the Tribune that Paxton's ruling is "truly stunning." He believes the booking records are clearly not part of the court system.
"This is a database admittedly maintained by the sheriff's office," Larsen said Monday. "These sorts of rulings happen because the AG, who cannot decide issues of fact, must accept a governmental body's factual assertions as true."
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