The Texas Observer Pushes for Key Public Records Withheld on "Homeland Security" Grounds

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Invoices obtained by The Texas Observer reveal the Texas Department of Public Safety has spent more than $160,000 in a lawsuit to keep information from the public, even though the Attorney General has stated there are no security issues. The Texas Observer has asked attorneys across the state and nation to view the documents and invoices online to see if the charges -- including $75 for reading an article in The Texas Observer -- are appropriate. Decide whether the DPS is protecting the public or simply withholding videos that may show a multi-millionaire lobbying lawmakers. A key court decision is expected on Oct. 24,but the larger public policy question is whether homeland security is well-served by spending money to keep the public in the dark, or to pursue legitimate anti-crime and anti-terrorist activities.

The Texas Observer

DPS -- invoking a patently absurd argument that it is protecting us from terrorists -- soldiers on in stubborn commitment to a flawed policy, refusing to admit that it is wrong. That recalcitrance is costing taxpayers a pile of money and usurping the public's right to know what goes on in their state Capitol.

Invoices obtained by The Texas Observer reveal the Texas Department of Public Safety has spent more than $160,000 in a lawsuit* to keep information from the public.    The invoices are posted at http://www.TexasObserver.Org

On the morning of May 23, 2005, the Texas State Capitol was rife with rumors that multimillionaire James Leininger was behind the House chamber pressuring lawmakers to vote for his pet project, school vouchers. When the Observer attempted to obtain surveillance tapes that could confirm the meetings, the Texas Department of Public Safety blocked the release, using the argument that it would compromise homeland security.

The Texas Observer appealed the decision to the attorney general's office. The AG agreed with and ordered DPS to release the video. Instead of complying, DPS contracted with a high-priced law firm to sue the state of Texas. On November 20, 2006, the agency lost and District Judge Stephen Yelenosky ordered DPS to release the tape. Instead, the state police decided to waste more taxpayer money.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has now spent more than two years and almost $166,000 in lawyer fees fighting the Texas Observer's request to release information that should clearly be made public. The Observer has obtained invoices from the law firms defending DPS and has posted them at http://www.texasobserver.org. The Observer asks that readers decide for themselves if DPS is spending their money wisely.

The Texas Observer point of view?

"DPS -- invoking a patently absurd argument that it is protecting us from terrorists -- soldiers on in stubborn commitment to a flawed policy, refusing to admit that it is wrong. That recalcitrance is costing taxpayers a pile of money and usurping the public's right to know what goes on in their state Capitol."

Meanwhile, the case is scheduled to be heard on October 24 before a panel of three judges at the 3rd Court of Appeals. A DPS official has said that the agency is more than willing to take it all the way to the Texas Supreme Court if it loses the appeal.

View the Invoices
Read the Editorial
Support The Texas Observer Molly Ivins Investigative Fund
Calling All Lawyers -- The Texas Observer Blog
$75 to Read a Magazine?
Read the Court's Decision
Read the Attorney General's Opinion Stating There is No Security Threat

Excerpt from Austin American-Statesman newspaper story:
"Capitol security at issue in court fight over videotapes
DPS has spent $165,000 in effort to keep information from the public.
By Mark Lisheron

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Over the past two years, the Department of Public Safety has sent more than $165,000 of taxpayer money on attorney's fees to keep videotapes recorded by security cameras in a back hall of the Capitol secret. The case could go to the Texas Supreme Court -- despite rulings by the attorney general and a state district judge that the tapes should be made public.

The agency has insisted from the start that it will not give the tapes to the Texas Observer, a small-circulation, nonprofit investigative newspaper, because they reveal details that would compromise security at the Capitol. Attorney General Greg Abbott and District Judge Stephen Yelenosky have ruled that argument baseless."

Full News Story in Austin American-Statesman

*Note: Court Case is Cause No D-1-GN-05-003119, Texas Department of Public Safety v. Greg Abbott, Attorney General. In the 250th Judicial District Court of Travis County, Texas

The Texas Observer writes about issues ignored or underreported in the mainstream press. Its goal is to cover stories crucial to the public interest and to provoke dialogue that promotes democratic participation and open government, in pursuit of a vision of Texas where education, justice and material progress are available to all. Every two weeks, The Texas Observer provides a view of Texas found nowhere else -- Sharp reporting and commentary from the strangest state in the union!

Contact: Julia Austin, 512-477-0746.

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