Rule 12 grants access to judges’ emails, payroll information

By Angela Morris
Texas Lawyer
Originally published Sept. 19, 2014

Lawyers might be interested in a little-known tool to request copies of courts’ administrative records such as emails, calendars and payroll records.

During a Sept. 12 panel at the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas annual conference, solo Joel White said that in 1998 he helped draft the tool—Rule 12 of the Rules of Judicial Administration.

The Texas Public Information Act doesn’t apply to the judiciary, but Rule 12 is sort of like the judiciary’s version of an open records law.

White explained that the public can use Rule 12 to gain access to judicial administrative records like payroll records, emails or calendar entries. But it does not cover court records in case files—the court clerks’ offices provide that access, he noted.

White said that there’s often an issue in requesting records that might contain personal information because people want to argue that the records are private. Also, when a person requests records under Rule 12, he might get a “blank stare” because not many judges and lawyers know about the rule, he said.

Travis County Court-at-Law No. 7 Judge Elisabeth Earle said that to prepare for the FOIFT conference, she emailed her fellow judges to ask them about their procedures for releasing records under Rule 12. She said that “no one” had heard of Rule 12, but she thinks judges generally want to follow the rules. Earle said a requestor should try to educate a judge about Rule 12.

Earle said she thinks the Texas Center for the Judiciary should require new judges to take a course about granting public access to the courts.