AUSTIN (AP) - A judge has reluctantly reversed his own ruling and found that the Texas Department of Public Safety doesn’t have to release travel records of Gov. Rick Perry’s security detail.
The Austin American Statesman reported Friday that District Judge Scott Jenkins decided a day earlier that releasing officers’ travel vouchers and receipts could compromise the governor’s safety. Jenkins had ruled in 2008 that the information should be released under Texas Public Information Act requests by the Statesman, Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.
“It’s a sad, sad world where we have to do this … and it leads to less transparency,” the judge concluded this week.
The paper sued after their open records requests were denied in 2007. They sought travel vouchers for a detailed accounting of how public money was spent protecting Perry when he or his wife, Anita, traveled to Europe, Mexico, Japan, Turkey and other places from 2001 to 2007.
The 3rd Court of Appeals agreed with Jenkins’ initial decision, but the Texas Supreme Court reversed those lower court rulings in July. It found that “the public’s right to `complete information’ must yield when disclosure of that information would substantially threaten physical harm.”
Jenkins said Thursday that the Supreme Court’s direction that he must consider “prospective” harm left him little choice but to issue the new ruling this week, the Statesman reported.
The judge rejected a request by the newspapers to require the Public Safety Department to release at least one travel voucher per trip as a way of ensuring the public that taxpayer money wasn’t spent inappropriately. Jenkins said he had reviewed enough of the 8,000 pages of travel records at issue to see patterns in the security detail’s actions and discover if someone could exploit them to do harm.
As a result of the newspapers’ case, the Texas Legislature last year approved language that going forward will make security details’ travel vouchers public after 18 months. Those documents also will be subject to the state Supreme Court’s prospective harm standard.
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