Updated Thursdays

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Shit Just Can't be Easy (Open Records 3)

The guy I spoke to in the first post, on Monday, I'm going to call Mr. Open Records. The clerk (or whatever) I spoke to on the phone will be called Miss Curious in this post. If she is reading this (and I'm pretty sure she is), I hope you're ashamed of your unprofessional behavior. I thought about apologizing to Mr. Open Records for shouting at you, but you know what?
You deserved it.

That Wednesday:

I still had not received a confirmation Email, 24 hours after I submitted the second request. I called the ORU and spoke to someone who I'll call 'Miss Curious', and asked why. She looked into it, and told me she would send the confirmation Email to me, since I asked for it. Then I asked her why, if the manager I had spoken to initially said that he would re-open the prior request, did the woman I spoke to yesterday tell me I would have to submit a new request and wait an additional ten days.

She pulled up my email to take a look at my request, and OH MY GOD. She became very upset by my request, and informed me that because it involved the sexual assault of a minor, they didn't have to release it to me. When I asked why, she said fine, she would submit it, but she would tell the person who was processing it to flag it to be sent to the AG's office.

Now,  I knew that meant the Houston PD would send my request, along with a letter of their own explaining why they don't want to release it, to the Attorney General's office. I knew I would have to wait 60 business days for a decision. I knew this because I had done my own research into how this works, but Miss Curious didn't bother to explain any of that to me. I guess she thought I'd be intimidated by her 'angry voice' and leave her alone.

But I wasn't, so I didn't. I asked her why she was going to flag it. I explained to her that I had already waited the 10 days the law allows, and I didn't want to wait until mid-October because of their screw-up.
"I'm going to send this to the District Attorney's office and they'll explain it to you."
I asked her to give me a reason why she was going to flag it. "552 101." She said.
Uh, okay, what the hell is that? The Freedom of Information Act? Some other statute?
She told me it was from the Texas Public Information act, and I told her I'd check it out and call back.

I looked at the section she was referring to, 552.101 of the TPIA.

Sec. 552.101.  EXCEPTION:  CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION.  Information is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 if it is information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision.

Now stick with me here, because the legal bullshit gets pretty deep. I get a lot of information from documents available online, to the public, from the Harris County Clerk's Website. Here is a disclaimer from that site:

Please be advised that unless documents are sealed by a Court order or otherwise made confidential by law, ALL documents filed with the Harris County District Clerk’s Office are PUBLIC RECORD. Under the Texas Rules, and according to General Order No. 2004-11; In the Matter of Protecting Personal Privacy in Public Case Files; In the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas (“The Order”),


Therefore, the Harris County District Clerk’s Office STRONGLY urges Attorneys to be cognizant of the confidential or otherwise private information that is contained in documents filed in District and County Courts in Harris County and recommends that Attorneys and parties make the proper sealing motions and file the appropriate sealing orders to protect such information from being publicly available in person or online.

General Order No. 2004-11
"Documents that have been sealed or otherwise restricted by the court WILL NOT be electronically available."

So all the information I have from the HCDC website is public record. If it's published online, it's public. It's been available online probably for years. Some information I found through other online sources like Youtube videos, specifically this one.
This means that there's nothing in the police report about the crime that's not already been made public by the courts or other sources, except maybe a home address from ten years ago. They can line that shit out with a sharpie for all I care, I'm not trying to get information about the plaintiff.

So I informed myself and called her back. I told her I didn't see any legal reason why she could not release the information to me. She told me (becoming very angry) that she would 'let the Attorney General's office explain it to me.' Again I asked her for a legal reason to explain why she was flagging it. She shouted "Because it's embarassing!", interupting me repeatedly while I told her that 'embarassing' wasn't a reason allowed by the Texas Public Information Act.
I told her that it may be embarassing, but the information was available on the Harris County District Clerk's website and is therefore already public, right?
She didn't believe me. She argued with me.
Finally, she tells me to give her the name of the website.
"It's the Harris County District Clerk's website. You can check it for yourself..."
Now, when I said that, I meant "You can check it later, after you've explained to me your reasons for flagging my request".

But no, Miss Curious decided she was going to check it right then and there, while I was on the phone with her. I couldn't believe it. What the fuck did that have to do with her job? She proceeded to keep me on the phone while she went to the district clerk's website, asking me to help her by telling her what tabs to click on, what information to enter. I was absolutely floored by her behavior. I got SO pissed off.
"You can check it later." I said. "Right now, I'm asking you-"
"Oh, I'ma check it! "
"Because I'm curious!"
I lost if. I shouted that I was not there to satisfy her curiosity. I wanted to tell her to go fuck herself.
She repeated that she was going to submit it to the AG's office and "have them explain it to me".
"Fine, transfer me to Mr. Open Records voicemail."

She transfered me to the voicemail I asked for, and I left him a message asking him to get back to me and explain what she was doing and why it was allowed.

Once again, Mr. Open Records got back to me in under thirty minutes. He did not speak over me, or interupt. He listened to what I was saying, and explained that they would submit my request to the AG's office, but he was sure that his office would win because the documents might reveal personal information about the plaintiff. I pointed out to him that the information he was referring to was already considered public record. It was available at the Harris County District Clerk's Office. Online. For free. How could they possibly claim it was confidential?

He told me that the judiciary (courts) were not bound by the same rules under the Freedom of Information Act as the HPD.

What the fuck. If Miss Curious had just told me that, that one simple reason, we could have saved ourselves a very unpleasant phone call. Somehow, I doubt she knew. Her insistence that the DA's office would 'explain it to me' suggests that she didn't know enough to do it herself. She probably is not used to having her decisions challenged, and because of that can't defend them. How many people have been discouraged from seeking justice or information because of her stuck-up, know-it-all attitude?

Anyway, Mr. Open Records gave me the number to the Open Information hotline at the AG's office. They will submit their arguments about why it should be withheld, and I'll receive a copy of that document. I can submit my own arguments to the AG detailing why I believed it should be released, and the AG's office would make a decision within 45 days of receiving the packet.

If you ever need to contact the government for any reason, you will eventually have to deal with someone like Miss Curious. Be prepared for it, so they don't get to you like she did to me. I assumed, because of the professionalism of the people I had dealt with previously, that they were all like that. My mistake.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I believe that they are taking time out of their busy day to read your blogs. That they spend every moment worried that you are going to uncover some injustice done on a convicted child molester.

Your drive, misguided is applauded, but seriously a true waste of time.

Incandesio said...

And your comment, though misguided, is sincerely appreciated.

Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

i swear i hate stuck up cuz there job there plenty of other job to fine! smh but for real ... i wanna be part of this what u doing!!! i like it dude!

Incandesio said...

Thanks! All you have to do to help is spread the word; tell your friends what we've found; there's some printable flyers up there under 'links' you can give to people that might be interested to help them find the blog. Even if they disagree with you, right now any publicity is good publicity! We have to get people thinking about this. I appreciate you taking the time to read the blog.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Be sure you file a response to their arguments to the AG. The bullshit can run pretty deep in those, too, and the AG will often accept factual misrepresentations by agencies if the respondent doesn't dispute them.

Incandesio said...

Oh shit, Gritsforbreakfast read my post!! Thank you for the advice!