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Texas sees first conviction for violation of public records act

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Texas sees first conviction for violation of public records act

  • A school superintendent was criminally convicted for failing to disclose school credit card records requested by local newspaper editor.

Sep. 8, 2003 — A Texas school superintendent was convicted Aug. 29 of criminal violation of the state’s Public Information Act after refusing to produce school credit card records requested by a local newspaper. It was the first time anyone has been convicted on a criminal charge of violating Texas’ Public Records Act, which is normally enforced through civil or administrative processes.

Llano Independent School District Superintendent Jack Patton was convicted by a Blanco, Texas, jury and sentenced by State District Judge V. Murray Jordan to a 180-day suspended jail sentence, six months probation and a $1,000 fine. The misdemeanor violation carried a maximum jail sentence of six months.

“I want all government officials to take note of how this case ended,” Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott told the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram. “I have said before that I will vigilantly enforce open government laws and I will protect the public’s access to information. It’s essential to ensuring public confidence and accountability.”

The conviction stemmed from a request by Llano Buzz and County Journal editor Tom Alberts, who sought records relating to expensive dinners and hotel rooms purchased with school district credit cards. Patton claimed that such records did not exist. When the paper later discovered that some of the records had already been disclosed to an area resident, it filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office, which indicted Patton.

“Public officials have been laughing at the Public Records Act since the day it was created,” said Eric Bishop, publisher of the Llano Buzz and County Journal. “Public officials will take note of what has happened to Mr. Patton.”

According to the Austin American-Statesman, Patton’s attorney, Richard Mock, says he will appeal his client’s conviction. Separate felony charges against Patton for tampering with government records and abuse of official capacity are still pending.

(State v. Patton) GP

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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