Celebrate Open Records Week!

 Posted on January 08, 2008 in Uncategorized

Robert Guest writes about the Dallas Police Department's response to his Texas Public Information Act request about incidents in which the DPD has entered the wrong house while serving a warrant since 2002. Danny Williams, a Lieutenant with the city's "Homeland Security and Special Operations Division", responded that there had been two such incidents, both within the last 12 months. The Lieutenant sent Robert the public portion (the first page) of the seven-page offense report in that incident.

I'm surprised. I would have guessed that, in a city of over a million, the police accidentally entered the wrong house while serving a warrant at least once a year.

In Texas, Public Information Act requests are simple: send a letter to the public information officer at the government agency, requesting the information you seek and referring to the PIA. If it's not produceable under the PIA, the agency has to seek an opinion from the Attorney General; if it is, they have to produce it (subject, of course, to payment for large batches of documents). For more detail, see Attorney General Greg "Call Me General" Abbott's Public Information Handbook.

I have several PIA requests outstanding. I don't make them as often as Robert (see more of his requests here and here and here and here), but I view the investigation of our government's conduct as a duty not only of a criminal-defense lawyer, but also of every citizen. As Robert says, "Open records are the public's last hope to keep the government... honest."

I'm declaring next week Open Records Week. Before then, think of something you think we should know about the operation of government. Then think of who might know the answer, and send them a nice request. For a few minutes of your time and the cost of postage, you'll be doing your part to keep the government honest.

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