In fact, the Texas Attorney General’s Office recently released data that over a one-year period, its Open Records Division issued a chart-topping 30,939 rulings—a 6.6 percent increase from the previous fiscal year. More notable yet, this past year’s growth represents about a 620% increase since 2001, when the department dealt with approximately 5,000 open records letter rulings. As email and technology makes submitting a public information act request incredibly easy, it may be worth asking whether the Office has the resources to properly adjudicate so many cases?
With 40 assistant attorneys general in the Open Records Division, each attorney would, on average, have had to tackle about 773 cases per year. Even with the help of 20 non-lawyer staff members, the growing number of cases could be difficult to manage, as it takes about a year to fully train someone so that he or she can handle a full caseload. Given these steep numbers and the rising growth in cases, it is not a stretch to say that staff attorneys in the Texas Attorney General’s Office may be a bit overworked.
Most open records rulings probably involve recurrent fact patterns with well-established rules for disclosure. The Attorney General’s Office very likely gets these cases right. Nonetheless, it is inevitable that some cases present more nuanced or difficult fact patterns. Especially in these situations, the Office may benefit from increased state funding to help it to more effectively approach these challenging cases. Without more state support, the Office runs the risk of getting these cases wrong, and ironically, these are the legal scenarios where the Attorney General’s guidance is most needed. Keeping the impending legislative session in mind, perhaps the Texas Legislature should consider allocating funds to allow its state Attorney General’s Office to employ additional staff in the Open Records Division.
In the meantime, if your company has received a Public Information Act Request, you need counsel well-versed in both the complexities of responding to these requests and correspondence with the Texas Attorney’s General Office. We at Cobb & Counsel have significant experience in this area of the law and would be happy to provide you a free consultation to determine if our services could benefit you.
1. AG Paxton: Open Records Divi¬sion Experi¬ences Record-Set¬ting Year for Public Infor¬mation Requests and Opinions, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF TEXAS, https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/news/releases/ag-paxton-open-records-division-experiences-record-setting-year-public-information-requests-and (last visited Nov 2, 2018).