10/18/2018Gag Order For Corruption Tainted Bus Camera Operator Legal Challenge
Texas Appeals Court issues gag order shielding legal challenge of troubled bus camera company from public scrutiny.
The Texas Court of Appeals issued an order keeping the public in the dark about the legal arguments made by a bus camera company whose equipment bankrupted the Dallas County Schools. Last week, Dallas County Judge Eric V. Moye complied with the appellate court's command and permanently sealed large portions of the record in the case. Judge Moye had dismissed with prejudice the scandal-plagued firm's lawsuit against competitor American Traffic Solutions (ATS), which is now Verra Mobility (view decision).
"Before the court is the parties' September 7, 2018 agreed motion to file their respective briefs under seal," appellate court Chief Justice Carolyn Wright wrote. "We conditionally grant the motion pending the trial court's order on the motion to permanently seal the records."
The issues in the case are of public concern because the deals struck behind closed doors concerning BusPatrol's camera systems have to date resulted in four felony convictions on public corruption charges. Force Multiplier Solutions, which later rebranded itself as BusPatrol, was caught delivering $3 million in bribes to Dallas County School officials as well as Dallas politicians.
The newly rebranded BusPatrol decided to go to court to stop ATS from "stealing" its camera business, but Judge Moye thought so little of BusPatrol's legal reasoning that he ordered the Virginia-based firm to pay ATS $421,910 in legal expenses. The reasoning behind BusPatrol's appeal is now guarded under seal. Even ATS found the secrecy had gone too far when BusPatrol moved to seal documents that were already in the public record.
"American Traffic Solutions Inc. (ATS) cannot agree to sealing the two remaining documents at issue because this court has already held that 'Agreements which are part of the public record of the entity of Dallas County Schools cannot be sealed,'" ATS attorney Phillip B. Philbin wrote. "Without question, the two disputed documents are part of a public agreement signed by a governmental entity, namely Dallas County Schools."
ATS did agree to sealing the internal ATS records and emails that BusPatrol obtained through the discovery process.
"ATS's e-mails might be taken out of context by, for example, members of the press if they are not sealed," Philbin wrote. "That poses the risk of financial and reputational harm to ATS, as ATS regularly transacts business with public entities."
The appellate court has noted that the case is ready for oral arguments, but no date has been set.