Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (pictured) has asked a Travis County court to enter a judgment that the State Bar of Texas must turn over copies of bank statements and checks to a Texas Lawyer reporter. Abbott filed a plea to the jurisdiction and original answer on July 31 in State Bar of Texas v. The Honorable Greg Abbott, Attorney General of the State of Texas.
The dispute began in spring. Texas Lawyer reporter Angela Morris filed a Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) request on April 10, seeking information regarding a Bar “investigation into a potential misappropriation of funds by a Bar employee who serves as a deputy clerk of the Texas Supreme Court.”
On April 24, the Bar asked the AG for an opinion on the request.
The AG issued the letter ruling June 28, finding that much of the information Morris requested could be withheld, but it required release of bank statements and copies of checks.
On July 9, the State Bar filed a petition in Travis County district court, alleging it should not have to release the information because the matter is subject to an “ongoing criminal investigation.” The Bar alleges the AG erred in concluding that information “falling within section 552.022 of the TPIA can never fall within the law enforcement exception, section 552.108.”
Abbott generally denies the allegations in his July 31 plea to the jurisdiction and original answer. He seeks a final judgment that “declares the information at issue to be subject to disclosure” and that orders the Bar to take nothing in its suit. He further argues that any claims the Bar alleges under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (UDJA) are barred because, among several things, the UDJA is not an “independent basis for jurisdiction.” Abbott alleges the Public Information Act is the sole basis for jurisdiction.
Jennifer Riggs, a shareholder in Riggs Aleshire & Ray of Austin, who represents the Bar, says Abbott’s reply is “pretty standard.”
“The plea to the jurisdiction is simply to the UDJA on the theory you can only sue under the TPIA,” Riggs says.
Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General's Office, did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.
— Brenda Sapino Jeffreys