Travis County DA Ronnie Earle wants to keep some of the details about his investigation of Tom DeLay a secret.
Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle doesn't want to release details about his investigation of former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay - specifically, how he's been spending taxpayer money to bring money-laundering charges against DeLay.
Earle is suing the state attorney general to keep the information private.
In March, before DeLay resigned from Congress, the Houston Chronicle filed a request under Texas' open records law for vouchers, hotel and airfare receipts, plus budget documents, memos and e-mails describing the expenses for the DeLay inquiry and related investigations.
Earle appealed to Attorney General Greg Abbott, arguing that releasing the information could compromise the prosecution.
The state's lawyer, who reviewed examples of the information, generally ruled that Earle didn't have to disclose secret information related to grand jury investigations but noted that the public records law requires disclosure of "information in an account, voucher, or contract" relating to the expenditure of public monies.
Earle sued last week to overturn that opinion.
"The first obligation of law enforcement is the protection of the public," Earle said in a statement Monday. "This opinion makes that job harder."
Earle complained that releasing such documents would reveal information about investigations or prosecutions before a suspect or defendant could legally access it.
"Such premature revealing of often sensitive and sometimes life-threatening information could adversely effect public safety," Earle wrote.
Austin lawyer David H. Donaldson Jr., a First Amendment specialist, said state law anticipates such a conflict between the public's need to know what officials are spending and the protection of criminal investigations. He said it's the attorney general's role under the law to act as a referee and decide what, if anything, can be released.
Donaldson said prosecutors might keep secret specific vouchers that would reveal the identity or location of an informant, but prosecutors should release documents showing how they are spending the public's money.
"I think the Public Information Act contemplates the public having a general sense of how much is being spent on a particular criminal investigation," Donaldson said.