Julie Oliver, executive director of the Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability, is seeking to intervene in an Aug. 29 suit the State Bar of Texas filed against Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott over an open-records opinion. Abbott has denied the allegations in the suit. Oliver filed a Plea in Intervention on Nov. 22 asking the 250th District Court in Travis County to uphold the AG’s Aug. 12 opinion, in which he found that the Bar must release some records to Oliver, pursuant to her request under the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA). Oliver’s plea also alleges the State Bar “has adopted a policy under which the Bar and its officials and employees do not retain or produce . . . email and text messages that concern official Bar business but that are sent using private email or text message accounts.” Oliver claims the policy is “inconsistent” with the TPIA. She asks the court to determine if the Bar is withholding those private emails and texts and to issue a declaratory judgment that the Bar must release the records. She says in an interview that she requested State Bar records related to the February 2011 referendum on changes to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. The Bar released many of the records. “It just seems like there were gaps, or there were people missing in the discussions,” Oliver says. She says she learned about a publication that sued a city, claiming the city had withheld records from elected officials’ personal email accounts. She then wondered if the Bar had also withheld records from personal accounts. Jennifer Riggs, who represents the State Bar in the open-records suit, says the State Bar may file a motion to strike Oliver’s plea in intervention and a plea to the jurisdiction. “What she’s done here is try to expand the scope of the case. Under the TPIA, she can’t expand it beyond her initial request and the attorney general’s ruling. Really, her complaint about emails or text messages isn’t ripe yet. There’s no particular emails she’s requested that she claims she hasn’t received. It’s kind of speculative at this point,” says Riggs, president and shareholder of Riggs Aleshire & Ray in Austin. Tom Kelley, spokesperson for the Texas Office of the Attorney General, says the office hasn’t received Oliver’s plea and he declines comment about it. He says it’s up to the court to litigate the matter. “It’s a very common thing for a requester to do this, and she has every right to. We wouldn’t take a position on it one way or the other,” says Kelley. State Bar General Counsel Don Jones didn’t return a telephone call or email seeking comment.
-- Angela Morris