Monday, April 30, 2007

Above the Law: Bill would place police above civil subpoenas

A terrible bill is up on the House Calendar today: HB 1572, which would close records of certain law enforcement agencies in civil suits if they're not a party in the case!

Gee, must be nice to be exempt from a subpoena! I hadn't noticed the bill because it came through the Civil Practices committee - apparently I wasn't the only one, because no one opposed it in committee even though it's a pretty darn radical idea. It's sponsor is Beverly Woolley, the chair of Calendars, which guaranteed it would get a floor hearing.

Right now many law enforcement records are closed that were public just a few years ago, and the trend has been toward increased secrecy for law enforcement. But every time records were closed, lawmakers told us that if someone sued they could get the records. Now even that wouldn't necessarily be true!

Texas needs to restore open records rights, not continue to close them. The records Woolley would close were public with an open records request from the time the Open Records Act was written in 1973 until 1996 - see this Grits analysis arguing for legislation that would restore the law. Now she would make it unavailable even for litigation purposes.

If government agencies don't have to give up records under supboena, why should ANY non-party to civil suits have to? I've had records subpoeneaed when I was an oppostion researcher for political candidates in litigation that didn't involve me (or my client) in the least! It was a big hassle, especially the part about being deposed for two days about what they found in my files. If I had to give up records as a non-party, why shouldn't they?

Indeed, what Woolley is really doing is ENCOURAGING more people to sue law enforcement agencies, or at least include them in the original list of defendants, because it is the only way people could access these records - again, records that 12 years ago were public with an open records request! Now you'd have to sue the agency proper to see them. That's ridiculous, this isn't Communist Russia - everyone at those law enforcement agencies works for the taxpayers.

This is a horrible bill - it wasn't on my radar screen but I hope somebody on the floor has picked up on it because it's scheduled to be voted on today.

UPDATE: Disappointingly, this bill was approved on second reading with just one amendment excluding traffic accident reports from the disclosure exception. Obviously that's just one of many types of information the public might have need for in civil discovery. Let's hope either the House comes to its senses on third reading or HB 1572 dies in the Senate.


Maverick said...

I'm really glad to see your post about the bill that would limit people's access to open records. I firmly believe that citizens should use their right to hold policy makers accountable by using the PIA process, and I'm glad to see your opposition to cruddy bills like this that attempt to limit those rights. Keep up the good work!

Catonya said...

I've typed 3 comments in reply to this but never mind.

How the hell do these people get elected?!

(sorry nothing more constructive to offer - taking a turn to vent)

Unknown said...

Just look to John 3:20 which paraphrased states: those who do evil hate the light because they don't want people to know about the evil that they do. This explains why police and politicians support secrecy and refuse to engage drug war critics in open discussions - much less debates on drug policy options

Anonymous said...

I so agree with J.T. Barrie, those who hate the light are products of sin.

Policemen should not be immune to subpeonas, they already get away with things other citizens would not get away with.

Remember, they are just people like the rest of us and should not hold a higher standard from the law than any of us. There are some rotten eggs in the mix and to let them get away with things and not have to answer to anyone is wrong.
My son is a police officer and he agrees with this totally and says there are a lot of policemen who are drunks and love to abuse people especially women and this should not be kept from coming to light.

This bill should be left on the floor and trampled on.

Catonya said...

Accountability continues to shrink...

via CNN - (full story here)
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled high-speed chase suspects can't sue police.