7/20/2017Smith County, Texas Loses Appeal Over Secret Speed Cam Deal
Texas Court of Appeals rejects attempt by Smith County to recall videos of the illegal speed camera deal struck behind closed doors.
Smith County, Texas will not be allowed to conceal already released details regarding the secret speed camera deal spearheaded by former Judge Joel Baker. On Tuesday, the county decided that it would not appeal a recent ruling by the state Court of Appeals dismissing as futile an attempt to recall videos of the closed door speed camera meeting that have already been made public.
Baker admitted that he violated the state's open meeting laws by striking a photo enforcement deal with American Traffic Solutions (ATS) three years ago. He was forced to resign his office after he was arrested for his role in the scandal. A local activist group, Grassroots America We The People, requested copies of all the relevant documents and recordings related to the secret meetings, and the Texas attorney general's office agreed that they should be made public -- as long as a court order was issued. Judge Jack Carter signed that order in April.
Smith County in May filed an emergency appeal seeking to overturn the order on the grounds that county employees were exposed to "civil and criminal liability" from the release of these records. The three-judge appellate panel was skeptical, noting that the recordings were already posted on the Internet and had become the subject of local news articles. Even if it wanted to, there was nothing the court could do about it.
"Even Smith County admits that 'there's no provision for retrieving information' that has been released to the public," Justice James Worthen wrote on behalf of the appellate court.
State law has strict timelines governing how public records must be released. There are no provisions made for agreeing something is public, but waiting to release it.
"When public information is requested from the government in Texas, it must promptly be produced under the Public Information Act," Justice Worthen wrote. "Because the three recordings are public, there is no threat of criminal liability under the Texas Open Meetings Act for Smith County officials or employees. Accordingly, granting the requested relief would be meaningless. We will not compel a useless act."
Texas law already bans the use of speed cameras, but Baker claimed the prohibition only applied to cities and not county governments. A copy of the decision is available in a 400k PDF file at the source link below.