Lawsuit says AG directive ignored in East Mountain

Lawsuit says AG directive ignored in East Mountain

By Christina Lane

A lawsuit claiming the city of East Mountain never released public records — despite multiple demands to do so from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office — is set for a hearing in January.

Visiting Judge Paul Banner will hear information about pretrial motions at 10 a.m. Jan. 20 in the case in which Ken Miller is suing the city, claiming it withheld information after a request was filed under the Public Information Act. The case will be heard in county court. A jury could be summonsed in the case in mid-March with trial starting after.

The lawsuit Miller filed is one of three the city of East Mountain is facing. One of the other two lawsuits also claims the city withheld public information after a request was filed. The other lawsuit claims the city violated the Texas Constitution by having the same person — Betty Davis — serve as city administrator and police chief.

Dallas attorney Andy Korn is representing all three people — Miller, Gari Bellis and Lester Glover — who have filed the respective lawsuits. County Judge Dean Fowler has been recused from hearing all three cases, and Banner was appointed to preside over each.

Lance Vincent is listed as the city’s attorney on the Miller case; Douglas Ritcheson is listed as the city’s attorney on the Bellis case; and the field for an attorney is blank on the Upshur County clerk’s records website for the Glover case.

Miller filed his lawsuit Oct. 17 against East Mountain, saying the city withheld public information and seeking for the court to order a writ of mandamus to make the city release the records. Miller also is wanting the city to pay attorney fees and the costs of litigation.

On March 12, 2015, Miller filed an open records request with the city to receive copies of cellphone records for Police Chief/City Administrator Betty Davis. According to a 2015 letter from the city’s attorney Lance Vincent, the city pays $45 toward a cellphone for Davis while she pays for the rest.

The city sought an opinion from Paxton, claiming that because Davis pays for part of the phone, a portion of the records would be personal. The city also said in its request to Paxton that because Davis is a licensed peace officer, a peace officer exception should apply to the phone records

In his opinion, Paxton wrote that a peace officer is exempt from supplying personal cellphone numbers and records in an open records request if the city does not pay for the service. Paxton concluded that the clause permitting cities to withhold the information if it does not pay for the phone “is not applicable” and “the city may not withhold on that ground.”

The city is permitted to withhold personal cellphone numbers of other police officers employed by the city or their family members in providing the documents, Paxton wrote.

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