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.
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.
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?