Search Results for: voter id

UT Austin gets buried in public records requests in struggle over leadership

Jan 28, 2014

A regent at the University of Texas made a request for hundreds of thousands of internal school-related documents. As a result, UT Austin has been buried in records requests and they are struggling to comply. Some are saying that the records requests are nothing more than part of a ploy to remove the school’s president. The huge amount of requests on UT has only just begun, however.

Wallace Hall has made requests totaling almost one million records and officials at the university have said they feel overwhelmed and have trouble complying. All of the documents have to be reviewed so that personal details can be redacted. Hall’s request raised the attention of lobbyists, reporters, and lawmakers who wanted to know what he had found, and the university ended up having to produce about one million documents.

To take on the huge load of record requests, UT hired its own experts to look through all the data. However, school officials still feel overwhelmed by the huge number of requests made under the open records law in the state.

A custodian of records at the school said that he spent almost five hours one day doing detailed searches for a single request. He went on to say that the larger load was just part of the problem. He was quoted as saying that the requests had become in several cases a lot more complex and comprehensive.

The requests are just part of a bigger fight over the direction of UT and whether or not teaching should be emphasized at the expense of research or vice versa. It is a tense battle and many experts are saying that the public records requests are just stoking the flames of that discussion. A lot of experts saw Wallace Hall’s actions as sort of an attempt to force the resignation or removal of Bill Powers, the president of UT Austin. The power struggle has reached all the way into the school’s football program and officials from the university are worried that it has hurt the reputation of the school and its recruiting efforts across the nation. However, so far, regents have not taken any negative action against the president.

Lawmakers came to the defense of Bill Powers this year and there is a special legislative committee devoted to investigating whether or not Hall overstepped his responsibilities as regent and released too much student information, among other activities. The committee has concluded after listening to public testimony that it could recommend the impeachment of Hall. There are no more hearings that are scheduled and the process could drag on for many months.

The huge number of requests shows the hard behind-the-scenes work that record keepers have to do to keep up with law’s rigorous outline.

A broad request like requesting correspondence between any official at UT and any state lawmaker for the past couple of years can take up the time of several state employees. Records keepers have to look through each page meticulously for private content. As a society we should consider the potential costs of keeping public records when we draft our laws that govern them.

Court records show a Texas judge made inappropriate comments

Jan 24, 2014

An affidavit has shown that a judge in Hunt County, TX made disparaging and negative statements about county commissioners and exclaimed that they would pay in an upcoming suit the judge recused himself from presiding over.

Judge Steve Tittle was scheduled to preside over a lawsuit brought to the court by county commissioners against several contractors who handled development of the county jail. They claim it is breaking down.

They claim the complex, which is over one decade old, has gaps in the walls and cracks in the floor. The suit alleges the floors slope so poorly that workers have to place lumber in between the baseboards and walls.

The suit is after damages of up to $30 milion to cover the costs of the repairs.

Tittle was going to preside over the case. However, he cut several thousand dollars in monies to the probation department after his friend lost her place there a few years ago. He simply waived the basic fees that probationers were required to pay, which was their primary source of income.

After the firing, Tittle tried to force the manager of his friend to come before him during several cases with probationers that he did not supervise directly.

The Texas attorney general issued a ruling that said the judge didn’t possess adequate authority to do that.

Tittle has only shown more vitriol against the county since then.

In a motion that the county filed to recuse him from the case, his old court reporter said in an affidavit that the judge had told her that “the commissioners were stupid and that they would pay one way or another”.

A lawyer who represents the county said he didn’t know of a more egregious statement a judge could make. He is seeking to remove Tittle from the case.

The judge’s previous court reporter has been fired.

Court records also show that Tittle said he would duct-tape the district attorney’s mouth. Court records show some pretty damning statements by Judge Title. He apparently characterized the statements of the distrct attorney as “outbursts” and he said, “if there are any more funny outbursts, the court has a notepad, a pen, and duct tape.

He then recommended that she write her question and another person would read them in open court.

The distrct attorney was never actually duct taped, and she did not respond to a request for comment.

Hunt County sought to have the judge recused on Monday. He withdrew from the case on Tuesday.

In a statement issued to everyone involved, Tittle mentioned that he had a very “heavy docket” and that would stop him from carrying out a drawn-out trial.

He said that he requested that another judge take on the case about a month ago.

Some records are missing from a recent Burleson County deputy shooting

Jan 21, 2014

Almost a month after a Burleson County Sheriff’s Deputy was shot to death, it is not certain where the files describing the shooting are.

During telephone calls that a local newspaper placed in the last few weeks to several high-ranking Burleson County officials (the district clerk, the DPS, the district attorney, etc.), the message received was that none of them had the documents.

Adam Sowders was killed on December 19th in the process of issuing a warrant.

Henry Magee was captured later that evening and eventually accused of capital murder. He is currently being on a bond of one million dollars. His lawyers had obtained the returns for the search warrants on Wednesday evening.

The district attorney for Burleson County wrote via email that the search warrant returns, detailing the inventory discovered at the mobile home, were on file with the district clerk’s office within 72 hours of the search, and the statement of probable cause for Magee’s arrest was at Corbett’s office, the judge who initially signed off on the warrants, or that they are being held by the justice of the peace.

Even though the district clerk’s office released the search warrant affidavits for the home, the district clerk said that neither of the documents were on file at her office, and she added that she could get those documents if a Grand Jury was to indict him.

The Grand Jury juror choices are supposed to start on Monday.

An attorney who is involved with a public records group in Texas, said that prosecutors can often hold the returns held tightly to their chest, so to speak, since they often have important information to strengthen a case with.

However, page one of the report that police make and the probable cause affidavit are supposed to be public record.

The Burleson County authorities said that the judge who signs off on search warrants usually has the documents on file. However, the staff at the judge’s office was quoted as saying that they didn’t have the documents with them prior to requesting a written request, something that must be requested in person.

A local newspaper sent out a search warrant return records request, along with the affidavit for probable cause, to the district clerk, district attorney, and the office of the judge who signed off on the warrants.

Because of a Texas state law, government agencies in the state have ten days to give a response to an open records request.

On December 18th, Sowders acquired a search warrant for the home of Henry Magee, once an informant leaked it to investigators that he had witnessed several cannabis plants growing inside of the home, as well as stolen firearms.

In the search warrant affidavit, Sowders requested to go inside the home without knocking or declaring the presence of police officers because he thought that knocking would hinder the investigation.

Texas Politics

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