No Gun, No Self-Defense
Legal Battle Won But War Ahead
Legal Battle Won But War Ahead
Victim got a copy of record sought, but a second
lawsuit looms over new public information request
by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2017
Part 9 in a Series
Posted Monday August 7, 2017 11:39pm
Updated Tuesday August 8, 2017 9:51am (to link to Settlement Agreement)
>The public information request that gave rise to a lawsuit in which Travis County Attorney David Escamilla sued Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been withdrawn. And with it the litigation over whether the County Attorney must provide the document at issue, as ordered in the AG’s open records ruling.
>The matter was put to rest when a Settlement Agreement was reached today that allowed the requestor to have an unredacted copy of the Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) the County Attorney entered into with her abuser.
Escamilla declined to comment until a copy of the Settlement Agreement is filed. The Austin Bulldog filed a public information request for a copy of the Agreement and it was not immediately received. (It will be linked at the bottom of this story when obtained.)“We settled,” Austin attorney Bill Aleshire of Aleshire Law PC, told The Austin Bulldog in a telephone interview late yesterday.
The agreement requires the requestor not to publish or assist anyone in publishing the DPA. “But she may give it to her attorneys, counselor, or therapist. And it can be entered into any official court proceeding,” he said.
>The ability to enter a copy of the DPA into court proceeding is important because the requestor, Tara Coronado, is in a custody dispute with her abuser and former husband over whether one of her four children will be sent to an out-of-state boarding school.
>At the request of her attorney in that dispute, Coronado declined to personally comment on the Settlement Agreement.
One battle won, a war ahead
Must Deferred Prosecution Agreements be Secret?
Must Deferred Prosecution Deals be Secret?
County attorney denies victim of domestic
violence right to see deal her abuser got
by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2017
Part 8 in a Series
Posted Wednesday July 5, 2017 1:59pm
Updated Wednesday July 5, 2017 2:55pm to add Coronado's statement about putting DPA online
Updated Wednesday July 5, 2017 3:40pm to strike incorrect sentence re: couldn't rely on previous determination
Updated Thursday July 6, 2017 10:08am to provide the correct blank form the county attorney uses for DPAs
The next stage in a legal battle over a prosecutor’s discretion to withhold certain records played out last Thursday in a state district court.
The Travis County Attorney’s Office and an intervenor in the county attorney’s lawsuit against the Texas Attorney General argued over which parts of the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) would govern arguments when the matter goes to trial August 8.
“It’s prudent to give you a clear ruling on what’s going to trial,” Judge Lora Livingston of the 261st District Court told the attorneys at the conclusion of the hearing, after listening to nearly two hours of arguments.
On Friday, Livingston ruled that plaintiff Travis County Attorney must limit arguments in favor of withholding a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) to the same grounds the county stated when it asked the Attorney General for a ruling.
A DPA is an agreement signed by the prosecutor, the defendant and the defendant’s attorney. It sets forth conditions that if met will result in dismissal of criminal charges. (More details about DPAs later.)
In its request for a ruling from the Attorney General (AG), the county cited only what’s commonly called the “law enforcement exception” contained in Section 552.108(a)(1):
“Information held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime is excepted from (release) if: release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime.”
At Thursday’s hearing, Assistant County Attorney Tim Labadie argued that the county had not cited other sections of the Act because previous determinations by the AG had allowed the very same DPA to be withheld.
He asked the judge for permission to claim several other exceptions set forth under Sections 552.108(a)(2), 552.103, and 552.107.
The judge denied his request.
Attorney Bill Aleshire of Aleshire Law PC won the ruling by citing Section 552.326 which states, “the only exceptions to required disclosure … that a governmental body may raise in a suit filed under this chapter are exceptions that the governmental body properly raised before the attorney general in connection with a request for a decision regarding the matter….”
Why county sued the AG
Open Government Fixes Costing Big Bucks
So Far and No End in Sight
The Austin City Council so far has authorized spending $399,000 to hire outside attorneys to provide advice to bring the city into compliance with the Texas Open Meetings Act and to defend a lawsuit filed by The Austin Bulldog under the Texas Public Information Act.
More than half that amount has been spent already, most of it to deal with the ongoing investigation of possible criminal violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act by Travis County District Attorney David Escamilla.
Section 551.143 of the Texas Open Meetings Act states that a member or group of members of a governmental body commits an offense if the member or group of members knowingly conspire to circumvent this chapter by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations in violation of this chapter. An offense, if proven, is punishable by a fine of $100 to $500 and confinement in the county jail for one to six months, or both the fine and confinement.
The Austin City Council’s possible violations of Section 551.143 were exposed by The Austin Bulldog’s investigative report published January 25. That same day The Austin Bulldog reported that Escamilla was investigating these matters. That investigation is still ongoing.
The city’s response to these reports was swift. On January 28, the city council hired three law firms and huddled with their lawyers for two and a half hours in a closed-door executive session.
The practice of scheduled private meetings was immediately stopped. The Austin City Council held its first public work session February 9.
The investigative report exposed the longstanding practice of the mayor and council members holding a flurry of routinely scheduled private meetings that for many years had been taking place a day or two before every council meeting. These private meetings denied public access to significant deliberations about city business that are required to be conducted in the sunshine of open meetings.
The Austin Bulldog reported February 7 that the City of Austin committed $159,000 to engage three law firms to provide legal advice related to Texas Open Meetings Act: James E. “Jim” Cousar of Thompson & Knight LLP, C. Robert “Bob” Heath of Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP, and Randy T. Leavitt of the Law Office of Randy T. Leavitt.
Since then, City Attorney Karen Kennard has issued amendments that allowed other lawyers and support personnel within the three law firms to assist, and increased the total authorized expenditures to $289,000 solely to address Texas Open Meetings Act issues.
Q&A with Sarah Weddington
Interview by Gwen Gibson
In your trailblazing career you have been an attorney, state legislator, women’s rights activist, general counsel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, adviser to President Jimmy Carter, and a sought-after speaker and writer. In addition, you teach at the University of Texas and mentor promising students. But you will always be best known as the attorney who successfully argued Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court at age 27.
Q. This landmark decision, which legalized abortion, has been controversial since it became law 37 years ago. These days opponents seem to be gaining ground as more and more states pass laws that restrict or regulate abortions. The latest Gallup Poll, meanwhile, shows 47 percent of adult Americans are anti-abortion while 45 percent support a woman’s right to choose this procedure. What do you think of these developments? Is Roe v. Wade in serious trouble?
A. First I’ve written several press reports and newsletter documents indicating that one poll you’re citing was not accurate and was a misrepresentation. More people have always said a woman should have the right to choose. But if you get down to asking, “Should she have to consult somebody?” or “Should she have to do it before a certain period?” then you get some real variety.
Q. You think these polls are too nuanced?
Q&A with ACLU’s Terri Burke
Executive Director of the Texas ACLU
Interview by Gwen Gibson
Q. You have tackled many controversial issues during your two and a half years as chief executive of the Texas ACLU. Your ongoing efforts to protect the rights of immigrants and to guarantee religious freedom for all seem to stir up the most debates. How do you explain your stand on these contentious issues to your supporters and to your detractors?
A. One of the first things I stress is that we are talking about immigrant rights, we are not talking about immigration reform. The Constitution doesn’t have those words in it. The Constitution talks about people; it doesn’t talk about citizens. The way we treat our immigrants is a reflection of who we are as a people and whether they’re here legally or illegally, whether they’ve broken the law or not, they deserve the due process that everybody in this country gets according to the Constitution. I don’t ask you to believe that immigration policy should be changed. I don’t ask you to believe that 12 million people ought to be thrown out of the country or 12 million people ought to be let in. I just ask you to think about who we are as a people and what are our very most fundamental American values. When we don’t afford these folks the basic constitutional rights they are entitled to, we diminish ourselves as Americans.
Q. How do you respond when people say you are defending criminals when you defend the rights of illegal immigrants?
A. I say it’s no different when you have an American accused of committing a burglary. In this country we believe that every person is entitled to an attorney and a trial and a jury of his or her peers. Am I coddling a criminal when I say that? Maybe you think I am. I think it’s about basic rights. My answer is, “What part of the Constitution is it that you don’t like?”
Q. And what about religious freedom?