April 09, 2008
KTRK wins injunction in Sheriff's email deletion case


The Harris County Sheriff's Office policy of automatically deleting e-mails after 14 days violates state law, a judge has ruled.

State district Judge David J. Bernal issued a permanent injunction on Monday, preventing the department from implementing the policy ever again. Bernal also ordered the release of 750,000 e-mails erased from employees' in-boxes in a mass deletion between Jan. 12 and 19.


The sheriff's office had argued that the deleted e-mails were no longer subject to the Texas Public Information Act once they moved to backup tape.

According to Monday's ruling, however, all the e-mails are considered public information, regardless of their storage medium.

The ruling also determined that Sheriff Tommy Thomas' policy of deleting e-mails after 14 days contradicts the Texas municipal code, which requires all public employees' correspondence to be kept for two years.

As I said before, the Sheriff's argument that email on backup tape was no longer subject to the TPIA was so ludicrous that it's hard to believe they even tried to make it. It doesn't pass the laugh test. This is an embarassment, and it got what it deserved.

The sheriff's office must now turn the e-mails over to Dolcefino within 14 business days and pay all KTRK's attorney fees and costs.


Thomas has asked to file an appeal, said John Barnhill, first assistant county attorney. Barnhill declined to comment on the possible basis for such an appeal on Tuesday.

I guess there's no argument so stupid that it can't be improved on appeal. This is nothing but a huge waste of time and money, and I'm not the only person who thinks so.

At what point can some grownup in Harris County government insist to Sheriff Thomas that he's wasted enough of the public's money, and that it's time to turn over the public's information?

There are two grownups in particular who should be having this conversation with the Sheriff. One is County Judge Ed Emmett, who along with Commissioners Court is going to have to approve the expenditures for those legal fees at some point; given recent history in that regard, one might think they'd be a little risk-averse in pursuing flight-of-fancy appeals. The other is County Attorney Mike Stafford, whose office's resources are the ones being directly wasted on this fiasco. He is certainly capable of telling the Sheriff why this is a no-win case, and why he won't allow his office to be abused in this manner, if he chooses to do so. You want your county government to behave responsibly here, that's where I'd focus my lobbying efforts.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 09, 2008 to Local politics


Posted by: RUFUS BROWN on April 10, 2008 3:01 AM
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