American Oversight asked a court on Thursday to reject Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s and Attorney General Ken Paxton’s motions to dismiss its lawsuit seeking the release of public records, including Paxton’s communications surrounding Jan. 6, 2021, and both officials’ communications with firearms advocacy groups.
In their motions to dismiss American Oversight’s suit, Abbott and Paxton claimed that the attorney general is the final word on Texas’ public records law, and that no court may review his decisions. Today’s filing by American Oversight asserts that Texas law is clear, and that the court is a vital check on the attorney general’s powers.
“Governor Abbott’s and Attorney General Paxton’s disdain for the law has been apparent in every step of this process,” said Heather Sawyer, executive director at American Oversight. “Though both officials have a history of refusing to release records of their work to the public, their positions do not allow them to evade accountability. We’re fighting to make sure that the government follows the law.”
In June, American Oversight sued the offices of Abbott and Paxton for the release of documents responsive to seven public records requests filed over the course of 15 months. The requests sought copies of Texas officials’ communications, including those around Paxton’s speech at a rally in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, and those with pro-gun advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association.
The suit came after Abbott and Paxton asserted implausibly broad applications of exceptions to the Texas Public Information Act and produced fewer than 10 records in response to American Oversight’s wide-ranging requests. In August, American Oversight filed a motion for default judgment against Paxton after his failure to timely file an answer to our lawsuit. Shortly thereafter, Paxton filed an answer. Later that month, Abbott’s and Paxton’s offices filed Pleas to the Jurisdiction asking the court to dismiss the case.
This lawsuit is part of an ongoing effort by American Oversight to promote government transparency and accountability in Texas. Following Abbott’s directive in February to investigate families of children receiving gender-affirming care services, we uncovered records that revealed that leaders at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services instituted special rules for handling those cases and instructed employees to avoid written communications about them. American Oversight is also conducting an investigation into Texas Secretary of State John Scott’s “forensic audit” of the 2020 election in four counties and recently obtained records that revealed that Scott met with election conspiracy theorist Patrick Byrne in December 2021.
More information on American Oversight’s other investigations in Texas is available here.
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