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Attorney general opinions call for prompt release of records

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         TEXAS         Freedom of Information         Feb 17, 2000    

Attorney general opinions call for prompt release of records

  • Government officials are on notice from the attorney general’s office that procedural rules cannot be used to artificially delay release of public records to requesters.

A pair of attorney general opinions issued in early February clarified that state and local governments may not rely on the open records law’s procedural rules to delay fulfilling requests for public records.

In the first opinion, Attorney General John Cornyn announced that government officials must release public records as promptly as possible. Although the law contains a provision that gives agencies 10 days to respond to a request, the delay cannot be used as a matter of course and is permissible only when the agency needs additional time to locate the requested records, according to the opinion.

The general rule, according to the opinion, is that records should be “promptly produced” and “without delay.” Only if the requested information cannot be produced — whether because of the large number of records involved or their dispersal across many departments or files — may the government official be allowed to respond within 10 days that additional time will be needed.

Whether a record is released promptly and without delay will be determined by whether the government official acted reasonably under the circumstances, according to the opinion. It would be unreasonable for a government official to respond that additional time is needed to process a request for a single public record, the opinion suggests.

The other opinion explains that attorney general decisions may be requested only when a government official has a “good faith” belief that the requested record is not public. If a court decision or attorney general opinion has already held that the type of record being requested is public, the government official cannot then request another opinion and claim he is uncertain whether the record should be released, according to the opinion.

Without a good faith belief that the record is exempt from disclosure under the law, the record must be released promptly and without delay, according to the opinion.

(Texas Attorney General Decisions, Nos. 664, 665 (Feb. 8, 2000))

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