City strikes out again in public records legal fight against the Odessa American


first_img Pinterest WhatsApp Twitter Facebook By Odessa American – May 13, 2021 Pinterest The City of Odessa has lost its second legal battle against the Odessa American’s efforts to force the municipality to comply with state freedom of information laws.In a unanimous ruling issued Thursday, the 11th Court of Appeals in Eastland shot down the city’s argument that a lower-court judge should not be allowed to hear and rule on the newspaper’s lawsuit that alleges the City has been violating open records laws by stymying timely and complete access to public police reports and probable cause affidavits.Authoring the ruling on behalf of the three-justice panel which heard oral arguments two weeks ago, Chief Justice John M. Baily concluded: “Viewing the factual allegations in the newspaper’s petition as true and construing the petition liberally in support of the newspaper’s intent, we conclude that the newspaper has adequately pleaded a claim for mandamus relief. . . . We overrule the City’s sole issue on appeal.”The lawsuit now goes back to visiting state District Judge Rodney Satterwhite, who ruled in October that the case should be allowed to proceed. The City initially filed a motion to dismiss the newspaper’s lawsuit, arguing the judge did not have jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter. But Satterwhite denied the motion by the City, which then chose to launch a baseless appeal to the Eastland court.The appeal served only to delay the final ruling sought by the American in October and obstruct the American’s suit to enforce the Texas Public Information Act.In its appeal, the City argued that the newspaper failed to sufficiently plead factual allegations in its case filings and therefore the City should enjoy “sovereign immunity” from the lawsuit before a state district judge. But the appellate court did not buy the argument, asserting in its written ruling:“The newspaper has sufficiently pleaded factual allegations in support of its claim that the City ‘refuses to supply public information.’” The Eastland court cited several specific examples of public records law violations alleged by the American.In reacting to the ruling, OA Publisher Patrick Canty said, “We are very pleased that the justices have affirmed what the trial judge had already determined.“We believed all along that our case should be quickly adjudicated once and for all by a judge in Ector County. Now that can finally happen.”John Bussian, the Odessa American’s lead attorney in the lawsuit, said it will probably be another 30 to 60 days before the lawsuit comes back before Satterwhite.“I think we would just want to say the Odessa American is glad to hear that the Eastland Court of Appeals unanimously agrees with District Judge Satterwhite that the district court obviously has the power to rule on this case as the Texas Public Information Act commands,” Bussian said.In a statement released late Thursday, City Attorney Natasha Brooks stated: “There has not been a hearing on the merits of the case. The opinion from the 11th Court of Appeals simply determined that the trial court has jurisdiction to hear the facts of the case. The City Council will now decide how to proceed.”The OA filed its lawsuit against the City more than a year ago, alleging the municipality was violating the Texas Freedom of Information Act by requiring the newspaper to file formal freedom of information requests in order to obtain police reports and probable cause affidavits, records that have always been readily and promptly available to any member of the public. The process resulted in delays in the release of the public records, which oftentimes contained information that was redacted. The newspaper’s lawsuit seeks a writ of mandamus by the court, which essentially is a ruling that forces the City to comply with state open records laws. WhatsApp Facebook City strikes out again in public records legal fight against the Odessa American Appellate Court ruling clears way for state district judge to decide newspaper’s claims Twitter Local News Previous articleVirtual AVID celebration coming upNext articleWoman charged with assaulting husband with kitchen knife Odessa Americanlast_img