Great use of FOIA: Case #372

The Dallas Morning News did a great investigation recently using the Texas Public Information Act.

Judge Keller’s disclosures omit nearly $2 million in real estate, public records show.

The story is about Sharon Keller, the chief judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In 2007, Keller declined to hear a last-minute appeal of Michael Richard, who was executed later that night.

This led to a complaint against Keller by the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct. Keller is seeking to have those charges dismissed on the grounds that mounting a defense would be financially ruinous. Judges in Texas are required to disclose their financial holdings. A year ago, when Keller disclosed hers, she omitted to disclose about $2 million in real estate holdings. The fact that she owns this much real estate might undermine her claim that she would be financially ruined by defending against the judicial conduct charges.

The Dallas Morning News knows about this because they pored over public records of real estate holdings.

Besides defending herself against judicial conduct charges, Keller may now have to defend herself against a separate set of charges having to do with failure to disclose all her real estate holdings.

One response to “Great use of FOIA: Case #372

  1. I’m afraid you’re still at case # 371.

    FWIW, they didn’t need to use FOIA/open records for that – her ethics commission report is a public filing available at the state ethics commission in Austin and online, while the confirmatory information about additional property came from local real estate records, which similarly are stored at a public archive with online access available (possibly for a fee – I don’t know about Dallas’ setup these days).

    In the online era, I’d like to see FOIA advocates emphasis shift to putting key documents online, indexed in search engines, proactively if they’re public under FOIA instead of waiting for a request. Our ancestors created public archives like real estate transactions, business names and officeholder ethics filings because they knew some information was so important you needn’t wait for a request to make it widely available. IMO that same philosophy should be applied to making documents of wide public interest available online without a FOIA, as much of this information was.

    They connected the dots, which is an excellent and useful service, but they did it using archival information, not FOIA.

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