On Thursday, American Oversight sued the offices of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton to compel the release of records responsive to seven public records requests made over the past 15 months.
The requests seek official communications from Abbott and Paxton, including emails with the gun lobby, emails sent by Paxton around the Jan. 6 insurrection, and work communications sent using non-governmental accounts or devices. In some instances, their offices have implausibly claimed that no relevant documents could be found, or that they were justified in withholding the records from the public.
Two of those requests seek Abbott’s and Paxton’s communications with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other pro-gun advocacy groups during the week following the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Following the shooting, Abbott canceled an appearance at the NRA convention in Houston, and Paxton dismissed proposals to enact stricter gun control measures.
In response to American Oversight’s requests, both Abbott’s and Paxton’s offices claimed that they had no responsive records. In the lawsuit, American Oversight argues that it is implausible that officials in those offices had zero contact with such groups at that time — including regarding Abbott’s last-minute NRA convention cancellation.
Other records sought in Thursday’s lawsuit include emails or text messages related to official business that may have been sent by Abbott or Paxton using personal accounts or devices. Both officials have a history of broadly interpreting exceptions to the Texas Public Information Act to shield their communications: In 2015, Abbott argued that he was a “member of the public” and could therefore shield certain requested records from disclosure, an argument supported by Paxton.
Earlier this year, American Oversight sent multiple public records requests to Abbott’s office for work-related emails and messages sent to or from his personal accounts from April 1, 2020, onward. Abbott has withheld responsive records under various exemptions to the Public Information Act, despite a determination in May by the Open Records Division of the attorney general’s office that some of Abbott’s communication records are public information.
Last year, American Oversight filed a request for emails sent to or from Paxton from any non-governmental email address from April 1, 2020, onward. This May, we requested his texts from Nov. 3, 2020, onward. Paxton has, implausibly, withheld nearly all records responsive to these requests as attorney-client privileged.
American Oversight is also seeking emails sent by Paxton or Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone on or around Jan. 6, 2021, when Paxton spoke at the Trump rally that preceded the Capitol insurrection. Paxton refused to produce records responsive to American Oversight’s requests or to similar requests from Texas news organizations. In January, the Travis County District Attorney’s office determined that Paxton violated state law by withholding the messages sought by the news organizations and said he must release the records within four days. Paxton claimed that he had not violated the law and still refused to turn over the messages.
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