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Big Win for Public’s Right to Know

 Big Win for Public’s Right to Know

No more hiding identities of the public officials
who do government business on private e-mails

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2016
Posted Monday April 11, 2016 2:09pm
Updated Tuesday April 12, 2016 10:54am (to add link to Corpus Christi Caller-Times coverage)
Updated Wednesday April 13, 2016 1:28pm (to add link to Watchdog.org Texas Bureau coverage)
Updated Thursday April 14, 2016 1:46pm (to add link to FierceGovernmentIT coverage)
Updated Wednesday April 20, 2016 3:07pm (to add link to FindLaw publication of opinion)

The 2011 City Council investigated by the county attorneyMore than five years after The Austin Bulldog filed a lawsuit against Mayor Lee Leffingwell, the other six council members, and the City of Austin, the Austin-based Third Court of Appeals on April 8, 2016, handed down a landmark legal decision. The court ruled that government officials are not “members of the public” and when they use private e-mail accounts to conduct public business they will forfeit the right to keep their e-mail addresses concealed from the public.

The Third Court’s ruling advances the public’s interest in holding government officials accountable. The decision is of vital interest in government and legal circles, and it triggered a front-page story in the Austin American-Statesman as well as articles in both the Texas Tribune and Law360.com, a national publication covering the legal industry.

The decision serves notice to elected officials and others in government service that they ought to do the public’s business through their government-issued e-mail addresses—and not hide public information by using personal accounts.

Joseph Larsen“Any time a public official uses a private e-mail account for public business—that’s highly suspect,” said Attorney Joseph Larsen, special counsel to Sedgwick Law in Houston and a board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

Decision will have wide impact

Statesman Acquires The Austin Bulldog

 Statesman Acquires The Austin Bulldog

Surprise announcement comes on fifth
anniversary of launching the Bulldog

© The Austin Bulldog
Posted Wednesday April 1, 2015 1pm

Ken MartinKen Martin, founder, editor and publisher of The Austin Bulldog launched its website April 1, 2010, saying, “We don’t take ourselves too seriously but we take our reporting very seriously.”

On the fifth anniversary of the organization that has relentlessly pursued investigative reporting in the public interest as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit focusing on holding local government accountable, comes the news that the Austin American-Statesman will expand its reach into local government coverage by pushing into the areas covered by the Bulldog.

Debbie Hiott“We have the resources to expand the Bulldog’s focus and give local government agencies the same bruising coverage afforded to unlucky state agencies that have wandered into our crosshairs,” said Statesman Editor Debbie Hiott.

The Statesman came out on top after a bidding war broke out among the New York Times, NPR, Fox News, AlJazeera America, and The Guardian. The Chinese People’s Daily also wanted to bid but was excluded by U.S. trade regulations. “We just wanted to keep local control to the extent possible,” Martin said.

The Statesman recently swept up most of the major awards in statewide journalism competition—including on March 29 being named Newspaper of the Year for the second consecutive year. Statesman reporter J. David McSwane won the large newspaper division for Star Investigative Report of the Year.

A long strange trip

Zimmerman Lawsuit a Costly Boondoggle

“To my memory, your honor—and I’ve been defending libel cases in Austin since 1990—this is the first time a candidate for City Council has ever sued the local media.”

Zimmerman Lawsuit Dismissed and Sanctioned

Zimmerman Lawsuit Dismissed and Sanctioned

The Austin Bulldog’s anti-SLAPP motion approved
after second hearing, damages and cost assessed

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Wednesday January 7, 2015 3:02pm
Updated Wednesday January 7, 2015 4:22pm to define SLAPP

Don ZimmermanCouncil Member Don Zimmerman’s defamation lawsuit against The Austin Bulldog was dismissed today by Judge Amy Clark Meachum of the 201st District Court, based on approval of The Austin Bulldog’s anti-SLAPP motion (to dismiss a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation).

Zimmerman filed the lawsuit October 15, 2014, during his election campaign, in response to The Austin Bulldog’s article published October 9, 2014. The article was based on court records that say the court ordered he “shall have no possession of or access to” the minor child. The petition that led to the court order states, “Respondent (Zimmerman) has a history or pattern of physical and emotional abuse directed against M.Z. (his daughter Marina Zimmerman).” On June 16, 2014, Zimmerman signed and approved an Agreed Order stating the “Court finds that the material allegations in the petition are true.”

Peter KennedyJudge Meachum awarded defendant Austin Investigative Reporting Project (dba The Austin Bulldog) $8,400 in attorney’s fees for the work of Peter D. Kennedy of Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody PC, who represented the Bulldog, plus court costs and other expenses of $579, and a sanction of $1,000.

The ruling followed two hearings, held December 18 and January 5, concerning The Austin Bulldog’s motion to dismiss Zimmerman’s lawsuit under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, enacted in 2011 “to encourage and safeguard the constitutional rights of persons to petition, speak freely, associate freely, and otherwise participate in government to the maximum extent permitted by law and, at the same time, protect the rights of a person to file meritorius lawsuits for demonstrable injury.”

Section 27.009 of the Act states if the court orders dismissal the court “shall award” court costs, reasonable attorney’s fees, other expenses, and “sanctions against the party who brought the legal action as the court determines sufficient to deter the party ... from bringing similar actions described in this chapter.”

2014 in the Rearview Mirror

2014 in the Rearview Mirror

A review of ‘The Austin Bulldog’s unique
coverage and its impact on the community

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Monday January 5, 2015 10:36am

The structure of journalism has changed dramatically. The dominance of electronic media provides free and open access to massive amounts of information delivered immediately via the Internet. But it provides no qualifying filter and trusted sources of news and commentary are found side by side with the misguided and misleading.

Yet news itself hasn’t changed. Human nature hasn’t changed. We still have crooks, thieves, power abusers, and the inept. Cover-ups will exist as long as humans exist. To keep dishonesty at bay requires watchdogs—investigative reporters who are willing and able to dig beneath the surface, examine the details, and bring the truth to light. It is more important than ever to identify and support the news sources that have proved themselves worthy of your trust. The Austin Bulldog strives to be such a source.

Election coverage

The year 2014 ushered in an historic shift in political power. The system of electing council members from 10 geographic districts broke the Westside grip and allowed suburban sprawl to overtake City Hall. For the first time women will make up a majority of the City Council—a super majority of seven in fact. Hispanics finally gained representation close to their share of the population and the first Latina will take a seat on the dais. Republicans not only broke the Democratic stranglehold but will hold three of the 10 District council seats.

The Austin Bulldog’s reporting played an important role in helping voters to decide which candidates deserved donations, volunteer efforts, and votes.

Steve AdlerThe next mayor—We provided in-depth coverage of Steve Adler, the man who will lead a council of nine newly minted members and only one holdover. Early articles covered Adler’s achievements as chief of staff to a state senator and as a leader of several important local nonprofits. These were followed by articles critical of his role as an attorney for property owners who were able to avoid compliance with current environmental regulations. The final installment detailed how he personally profited from not having to comply with the Save Our Springs Ordinance for development of a tract in Oak Hill. While Adler won a landslide victory in the mayoral runoff he did so no endorsements from the environmental community and will have to work harder to overcome distrust by protecting our environment.