City of El Paso files to dismiss email case against Texas attorney general

By Cindy Ramirez
El Paso Times, originally published Sept. 19

The city has filed a motion to dismiss its case against the attorney general over an open records debate, saying Tuesday’s release of emails from city officials’ personal accounts make the case moot.

In its filing Wednesday, the city also asks for a continuance in its motion to quash a request by local attorney Stephanie Townsend Allala to take depositions of former and current city officials related to her requests.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the city said it has complied with the Texas Public Information Act and has released all the records voluntarily provided to it by the officials, and is “looking forward to a resolution on the matter.”

“The City of El Paso has fully complied with the Texas Public Information Act by releasing all responsive documents in the care, custody and control of the City at the time the information requests which are the subject of the litigation were received,” the statement reads. “The Texas Public Information Act does not provide a remedy when individuals refuse to allow access to their personal email.”

Austin attorney Bill Aleshire, who represents Allala in her open records fight, said he wants sworn statements from the individual city officials.

“The voluntary statements (Tuesday) do not prove that these officials have turned over the public records they created or stored on their personal email accounts,” Aleshire said. “Had they provided sworn statements under oath, perhaps it would have made a difference. It’s curious that none of them did.”

In its motion Wednesday, the city included an affidavit by City Manager Joyce Wilson stating the city has conducted “a diligent search for information but does not have any additional responsive documents which have not been published or disclosed.”

A district judge in Austin today was to hear arguments on whether Allala can take depositions of current and former city officials who she claims may be withholding emails from their personal accounts that relate to her requests, including the controversial Downtown ballpark.

The city is fighting Allala’s attempt to question Wilson, as well as city Rep. Cortney Niland and former city Rep. Susie Byrd, regarding the open records requests she filed last year.

Earlier this month, attorneys for the city filed a motion to quash the August deposition notice by Aleshire, arguing that the three are not parties to the lawsuit or governmental entities to which the public information act applies.

The city filed a lawsuit fighting a ruling by the Texas attorney general that it must release emails related to city business whether they were on personal or work accounts.

The city argues it does not maintain and has no access to emails that are not stored on the city’s computers or servers and cannot access them without a warrant based on probable cause.

The city also argues it has made a good faith offer to voluntarily produce all responsive information in its possession.

On Tuesday, the city released a number of emails provided to it by former and current city officials after the current City Council voted to ask them to voluntary turn over any communications responding to the open records requests in question.

Also released Tuesday were copies of a letter containing a signature page that asked the officials to indicate that they searched their personal accounts and either enclosed or didn’t find any emails responsive to the requests. Former city Rep. Steve Ortega said he would not turn over any of his emails.

Allala last year requested emails and text messages to or from the city officials’ personal email accounts and cellphones regarding the ballpark now under construction, as well as other emails and texts regarding any matter of public business between Jan. 1 to Sept. 5, 2012.