UPDATE: (2:30am MT) I have now confirmed that the “direction” city council gave the City Attorney is to appeal to the 3rd Court of Appeals the judge’s order to retain jurisdiction over the Stephanie Townsend Allala’s case. The city’s action is only the second time an open records case is appealed in Texas, the first one being the San Antonio Tommy Adkisson case. The city is again now officially spending additional taxpayer monies to continue to keep public records secret.
Last Tuesday, December 10, 2013 late in the afternoon the City of El Paso issued a press release updating the community on the city’s lawsuit against the Texas Attorney General’s office in regards to the pending open records request by Stephanie Townsend Allala. Earlier in the day, city council took no action after emerging from executive session where they discussed this issue.
According to the press release, the city stated that on “December 2, 2013, Judge Orlinda Naranjo granted the City of El Paso’s Plea to the Jurisdiction and dismissed the case pertaining to the TPIA’s from Brenda deAnda-Swann, Debbie Nathan/Karla Guevara (El Diario de El Paso), Debbie Nathan and Raymundo Eli Rojas”.
The press release goes on to state that Stephanie Townsend Allala’s open records request was still pending before Naranjo’s court. In essence what the city was saying is that except for Stephanie Townsend Allala’s pending request all of the others had been dismissed.
The city goes on to state that it is “diligently” working to “identify every document in the City’s computer, emails, offices, and file systems” in order to comply with the Attorney General’s decision. However, the city goes on to argue that it believes that the law does not allow “private requestors” to use the “procedures” that the Texas Attorney General has to compel public officials to release documents.
According to a November 14, 2013 filing, the city is arguing that Orlinda Naranjo’s court has no jurisdiction in the matter because, according to them the city has complied with the Texas Attorney General’s opinion. According to the city, the matter is now “moot” because the city has done what it was ordered to do by the Texas Attorney General.
As best as I can tell from the legal filing, as a non-attorney, the city is arguing that Stephanie Townsend Allala has no standing, or authority to demand that the city comply with the open records law. According to the filing, the only entity that has any authority to compel the city to release records under the open records laws is the Texas Attorney General’s office. In their argument, the city is arguing that they have complied with the Texas Attorney General and therefore the matter is now “moot”.
However, it seems that according to the city’s own press release the judge has agreed with the city on everyone else, except for Stephanie Townsend Allala’s intervention in the lawsuit.
Then the press release becomes somewhat ambiguous. It states; “The City Attorney’s Office has fully briefed the Council and will proceed in accordance with the direction given.”
On Tuesday, December 10, 2013 city council met in executive session and discussed three items, one of which was “EX1. City of El Paso, Texas vs. Greg Abbott, Attorney General, Cause No. D-1-GN-12-003879”. When council exited executive session they only took action on one item, EX2 and took no other action from executive session.
Yet, later that day, the city issued a press release stating the city’s lawyers “will proceed in accordance with the direction given” presumably by city council. What this “direction is”, remains unclear at the moment.