METRO isn’t the only local public institution that is being less than helpful with regard to public information requests.
As KTRK-13’s Ted Oberg reports, his television station has gone back to court to try to obtain emails that it thought the sheriff’s department had already agreed to provide after earlier legal action:
Wednesday afternoon, KTRK went to court for the second time to get the sheriff to turn over emails.
The court filing asks a judge to hold Sheriff Thomas in contempt. The sheriff agreed last month to save emails his department had deleted. Now, they say they don’t have to turn them over.
In early January, Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas implemented a brand new email policy. Surprising even his own employees, he deleted 800,000 sheriff’s department emails.
Since state law treats many emails as public records, Channel 13 thought the new policy was against the law and asked for a copy of the deleted emails. The station thought it had an agreement with the sheriff’s department, but the sheriff later refused to turn the emails over which brought the station back to court Wednesday afternoon.
It is the second time the station went to court to get the sheriff department’s emails. On January 19th, a judge issued an order preventing the sheriff’s department from destroying any emails. Six days later, the sheriff’s lawyer agreed to recover any emails that were already deleted. The sheriff’s department apparently put them on a back up tape for safe keeping. But when 13 Undercover asked for those emails under state law, the sheriff’s department told the station state law doesn’t require them to turn anything over from backup tapes.
Even if there’s nothing in the emails, the department’s behavior sure does suggest it has something to hide. It’s hard for me to see merit in the department’s argument that emails backed up to tape should be treated differently from emails not backed up to tape for purposes of public information requests.