Decision on OA lawsuit put off until November

Attorneys for the Odessa American and the City of Odessa on Thursday agreed to spend the next 60 days trying to agree to the facts to be decided by a state district judge in the OA’s ongoing open records lawsuit against the municipality.

The agreement could speed up the 1 1/2-year-old legal battle brought by the newspaper, alleging the City has violated the Texas Freedom of Information Act by delaying and/or redacting police reports and probable cause affidavits, documents considered public information readily accessible to any member of the public.

The latest legal twist came as both sides were scheduled to appear in a hearing Thursday before visiting Judge Rodney Satterwhite in 161st State District Court in Odessa. Among the City’s contentions is its assertion that it ought to be allowed to conduct discovery and depositions as part of its defense in the case. But lawyers for the newspaper argue that the decision is a matter of law that can be decided by the judge.

Both sides met privately just before the start of the hearing at the Ector County Courthouse and then informed Satterwhite they would meet in the coming weeks to try and establish agreed-upon stipulations as to facts surrounding the case that could allow the judge to rule on the matter.

Both sides will likely submit a joint fact-finding report to Satterwhite to consider prior to reappearing before the judge on Nov. 15.

“It’s a delay, but it’s a way for both sides potentially to save money and streamline the legal questions to be decided by Judge Satterwhite,” said John Bussian, lead counsel for the OA.

The city’s new Midland-based legal team, hired by the City Council in June, had indicated that they basically wanted to restart the case from scratch. The City cut ties with an Austin law firm last year during the heated City Council races.