Last Monday, the City of El Paso through its outside law firm, filed another brief with the Third Court of Appeals asking that Townsend Allala’s quest for the release of emails through her open records request be dismissed by the court. The city, through the taxpayer-funded lawsuit being handled by Denton Navarro, Rocha, Bernal, Hyde & Zech, continues to argue that the court no longer has jurisdiction because the city has met its obligations.
In the latest Appellant’s Reply Brief, filed on March 17, 2014 the city continues to argue that the court lacks jurisdiction in the matter. As I have outlined previously the city bases its argument on the notion that it has given Stephanie Townsend Allala all of the emails in its possession and that the city has no authority to demand the emails in Steve Ortega’s personal email accounts. In its latest filing, the city expands on this notion.
In the first point, the city is arguing that Stephanie Townsend Allala has no authority to take depositions from current and previous officials because, according to the city’s fillings, interrogatories like these are “beyond the scope” of the Public Information Act. The city argues that under the public information laws, the city does not have duty to “prepare or assemble new information in response to a request”. According to the city, all of the emails that the city had in its possession and those that were “voluntarily obtained from the current and former elected officials and employees” have already been turned given to the community.
The city adds that case law shows that the city has no authority to access private email accounts. It cites previous rulings supporting its argument.
The city further argues that the court actions is now moot because the city argues that the Texas Attorney General is now “satisfied” that the city has met its obligations because the Texas Attorney General recently filed paperwork stating that it would not submit a response to the current court case before the Court of Appeals.
The city then goes on to argue that the proper venue for Townsend Allala to force Steve Ortega to release the public information records in his possession is through the El Paso District Attorney’s office or through the County Attorney.
In essence, the city is arguing that it has relinquished all of the records in its possession and that it has no authority to compel Steve Ortega to turn those, in his possession, in. The city further argues that the public’s records in Steve Ortega’s private email accounts were never stolen from the city and were never in the city’s possession to begin with. Therefore, the city argues that it cannot release them under the Public Information Act and that it has no way to compel Steve Ortega to turn them in.
The city is asking the Court of Appeals to rule that the Travis County Court has no further jurisdiction over the matter.
Author’s note: Most of you, if not all of you, already know where I stand on this issue. Therefore, I have decided to present the facts to you, as I understand them to be, without commentary today. I am doing this because I do not expect the local media to keep you up to date on this very important issue. Without having current information before you it is difficult to opine on public matters and since the news media doesn’t seem interested I wanted to update you in order to debate the issues at a later date.