Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive


Wednesday, April 4, 2001

CORNYN SETTLES OPEN RECORDS CASE

Stephenville ISD Agrees to Training Sessions

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn announced that he has settled an open records lawsuit against the Stephenville Independent School District. Cornyn sued the school district last year for violating the Texas Public Information Act. The settlement provides that several top school administrators, including a majority of the school board, will attend training sessions on the requirements of the Texas Public Information Act. The time and place of the training sessions have not yet been determined.

"The winners in this settlement are the people of Stephenville, and all Texans," said Attorney General Cornyn. Cornyn said he believes the school district is committed to complying with the statute in the future. "We are always looking for ways to cooperate with government officials, such as school boards, to increase access to public information, and this settlement gives us a new chance to cooperate."

The dispute started in December of 1999 when a local parent asked for copies of the school district's attorney fee bills. Like all public records, attorney fee bills are subject to the Public Information Act. But the Stephenville district wished to withhold the fee bills, so it sought a ruling from the Attorney General. That ruling, issued in January 2000, confirmed that the fee bills must be released.

Under a 1999 amendment to the Public Information Act, the school district had 30 days to appeal the Attorney General's ruling. The school district did not appeal. Because it did not appeal, the statute required the school district to comply with the Attorney General's ruling. The school district violated the law by releasing only a portion of the information. The school district removed names and other key information from the records before the bills were released.

Cornyn subsequently filed suit to enforce the statute and the ruling, and the school district immediately released all of the information. However, the school district also filed court papers disputing the Attorney General's ruling, alleging that the district had not violated the law, and claiming that the Public Information Act was unconstitutional. In the agreed court order that ended the case, the school district acknowledged that it had violated the law. The order, filed in state district court in Austin, also rejected the unconstitutionality arguments, and required the school district to pay attorney's fees to the state.

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Contact: Mark Heckmann, Tom Kelley or Jane Dees Shepperd at (512) 463-2050.
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