Texas jury convicts school superintendent for violating state open-records law

A jury found a Llano school district superintendentguilty last month of violating the Texas Public Information Act for withholdingpublic records, making him the first known government official to be prosecutedunder the state law.

After a four-day trial and five hours of jurydeliberation, Jack Patton was sentenced Aug. 28 to a six-month probated jailsentence and a $1,000 fine for not responding to a local newspaper’s request tosee detailed expenses on district credit cards.

The requested credit cardbills totaled more than $17,000, including a $617.37 dinner for Patton, threeboard members and their spouses during a Texas Association of School Boardsconvention.

The Texas Public Information Act requires that governmentalbodies and officials respond promptly to open record requests or provide legalarguments within 10 business days explaining why they will not. 
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has said the case is an example ofhow strictly he will uphold Texans’ right to publicinformation. 

“Openness is indispensable to promoting a responsiveand citizen-centered government,” Abbott said in a statement following the case.”That’s why this issue is so important to me, and why I will continue to be achampion of open government in Texas.”

Patton’s lawyer Richard Mock saidhe would appeal

SPLC View: Many state freedom of informationlaws include criminal penalty provisions. However, it is rare for them to beactually enforced. Kudos to the Texas AG for taking the issue of access togovernment information seriously.