Houston Community College Sues Texas Attorney General Over Public Records

HCC Says, "I got your Attorney General's Opinion right here, pal!"
HCC Says, "I got your Attorney General's Opinion right here, pal!"
photo by WhisperToMe via creative commons

Boy, for a public institution, the Houston Community College System really hates state public record laws: the embattled institution has sued the Texas Attorney General's Office, arguing that it erred in saying that HCC must release payment records related to HCC's outside law firm.

Last December, blogger Manuel Barrera, the HCC watchdog behind insidehccs.com, requested copies of invoices submitted by law firm Monty and Ramirez between June-November 2014. But HCC sought an Attorney General's opinion, arguing that the invoices contained privileged attorney-client information that should be redacted.

It's the latest convoluted filing in protracted litigation for the school system, which also allegedly operates part-time as a dojo where trustees punch each other during closed sessions.

The AG responded by stating that HCC failed to seek an opinion in the time allotted by law. In its response to HCC, the AG's Office explained that even though the school system blew the deadline, certain information could be withheld if the governmental body could show a "compelling reason." But HCC could not provide compelling reasons, according to the letter.

Naturally, HCC did what any petulant child governmental entity would do after getting a less-than-favorable response: it sued the state's top attorney.

The April petition argues that HCC did seek an opinion in time (apparently the AG's Office sucks at math), and besides, "there is a compelling reason to withhold the information sought to be redacted by the College as it constitutes privileged attorney-client information, including information that is the subject of pending litigation."

We asked HCC's attorney, Grant Harvey, how invoices could possibly contain privileged information. He told us that "invoices often provide information regarding specifics -- it can have communications, and it can detail information, and it's pretty well established and standard that invoices, when they're produced, they're redacted."

Harvey said the dollar amounts requested in the invoices would not be considered privileged and would not be redacted.

"The purpose of the filing is to protect the actual attorney-client privileged information, not the invoiced amounts, and that's it," Harvey said.

That might be easier to swallow if it didn't come from an attorney for a massive community college system that has fought tooth and nail to seal records in a nasty legal battle with its former general counsel


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