In Open Records 102- Attorney General Edition Robert Guest republishes a FAQ from the Texas Attorney General about the Texas Public Information Act. The AG notes, correctly that “records of the judiciary do not fall under the Public Information Act.”
For Open Records Week last week I sent public information requests to all of Harris County’s 37 criminal-court judges. To get public information (not Public Information) from the judiciary, you must comply with Rule 12 of the Texas Rules of Judicial Administration. Here’s a brief rundown of how it works.
A request to inspect or copy a judicial record must be in writing and must include sufficient information to reasonably identify the record requested. The request must be sent to the records custodian and not to a court clerk or other agent for the records custodian.
The custodian of records for a single-judge court (like a trial court) is the judge. The custodian of records for a multi-judge court (like an appellate court) is the chief judge of that court.
Once the written request has been delivered to the judge, the judge has 14 days to either:
(1) allow the requestor to inspect the record and provide a copy if one is requested; or
(2) send written notice to the requestor stating that the record cannot within the prescribed period be produced or a copy provided, as applicable, and setting a reasonable date and time when the document will be produced or a copy provided, as applicable.
If the judge denies access to the records (again, within 14 days), the requestor has 30 days to “appeal the denial by filing a petition for review with the Administrative Director of the Office of Court Administration.” Then the Administrative Director has 60 days to grant the petition or affirm the denial of access.
Aside from the administrative review process, the requester can seek a writ of mandamus to force the judge to comply with the rule. Also, a judge who knowingly fails to comply with Rule 12 is subject to sanctions under the Code of Judicial Conduct.