Friday, December 21, 2007

Texas AG's Office: "Some requested information is protected from disclosure."

Toll road critics' data request overruled

Judge says suit asking information from TxDOT casts too wide a net

Dec. 20, 2007

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Toll road critics cast too wide a net in seeking information from the Texas Department of Transportation in a lawsuit, a state judge ruled Thursday.

Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, led by Terri Hall, of San Antonio, contends the Keep Texas Moving toll road campaign violates a state prohibition on state officers or employees using their authority for political purposes. The group also contends the agency has illegally lobbied elected officials.

The transportation agency has said it is acting legally and that Hall doesn't have standing to bring the lawsuit. It objected to a large part of the group's document request made by TURF in an effort to prove its case — as too broad and too vague.

State District Judge Orlinda Naranjo, of Travis County, agreed with the assessment by Assistant Attorney General Kristina W. Silcocks, representing the transportation agency.

But over state objections, Naranjo extended the time that TURF has to gather information after the group's lawyer, Charles Riley, said he wants to try again with a narrower request for agency documents.

A hearing on the heart of the case now isn't expected before early March, rather than late January.

In its original information-seeking effort, TURF asked the state agency for documents including "any effort by TxDOT to advocate in favor of toll road policy and/or any effort by TxDOT to seek, promote or encourage the passage or defeat of any legislative measure related to tolling."

The group also sought all documents "concerning any trips, meetings, meals and/or conferences where TxDOT promoted and/or discussed tolling policy," and all documents concerning an agency report to Congress saying that states should have the option to buy back parts of interstates and toll them. "That is so broad," Naranjo said of one request, adding of another, "That could be the kitchen sink."

Silcocks said " and that the agency already had given a large number of documents to TURF.

"We produced thousands of documents," including e-mail, she said.

Hall said after the hearing, "It was almost all just invoices and junk, and most of it was duplicate."

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