Thursday, October 25, 2007

Judges hear arguments in DPS security tape case - Texas Observer wants to see if donor Leininger met with Legislators

DPS lawyer says release of tapes would set bad precedent, compromise security.
By Mark Lisheron - Austin AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF - Thursday, October 25, 2007

An attorney for the Department of Public Safety told a Court of Appeals panel Wednesday that publicly releasing security camera tapes from public buildings was little different from giving someone the access codes to a building's security center.

DPS has for more than two years been arguing to keep certain security tapes secret, after a public information request by the Texas Observer, a small nonprofit investigative newspaper.

The case made its way to the 3rd Court of Appeals after the Texas attorney general's office and a state district judge ruled that the public's right to the tapes in this case outweighed security concerns.

DPS has spent more than $165,000 on private attorneys to fight the release of two tapes recorded by two Capitol security cameras on May 23, 2005, in the back hallway of the House of Representatives chamber.

The Observer asked for the tapes to see whether prominent campaign donor and school voucher advocate James Leininger met with legislators on a day when a voucher pilot program was to have been voted on.

The case has drawn the ire of the chairman of the state Senate's Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who has promised an investigation into why the department has not surrendered the tapes.

Carona has called the Public Safety department's action politically motivated and a waste of taxpayer money.

Raymond White, the attorney representing DPS, said Wednesday that his client has persisted despite the legal setbacks because of the precedent that would be set if the agency were forced to release the tapes.

"The release of this information would give people who would want to defeat the (security) system an incredible amount of information," White told a panel made up of justices Diane Henson, David Puryear and Alan Waldrop. "These videotapes are a guide to the core of how the security system works."

As he has from the start of the case, Jeremy Wright, attorney for the Texas Observer, told the appeals court judges that the tapes provide no such compromising security information. He asked the panel to consider the law, which offers a narrow interpretation of what kinds of information can be kept from public view for security reasons.

After the hearing, Wright said he was confident that the three judges understood that the Observer's public information request was narrow, specific and legal.

"I think they were very focused on the balance between open government and security, and I hope they will decide in our favor," he said.

Appeals court cases typically take weeks, and it can take months for judges to announce a ruling.
Read more in The Austin AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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