City plans to appeal lawsuit - Odessa American: Local News

City plans to appeal lawsuit

Odessa American | Posted: Friday, October 16, 2020 4:42 pm

The City of Odessa has formally signaled it plans to appeal a judge’s ruling that allows the Odessa American to proceed with its lawsuit alleging the municipality has repeatedly violated state freedom of information laws.

Lawyers representing the City filed a notice of appeal Thursday, noting in the filing they desire the matter be taken up by the 11th Court of Appeals in Eastland.

The notice, filed in the 161st State District Court, comes on the heels of a ruling Monday by visiting Judge Rodney Satterwhite, who denied the City’s request to dismiss the newspaper’s lawsuit because, it claimed, the judge did not have jurisdiction in the case.

The formal notice now puts the lawsuit on hold pending a ruling on the City’s appeal by appellate court.

“We expected this and it is unfortunate,” OA Publisher Patrick Canty said. “It is merely another delay tactic by the City that will add thousands of dollars to a costly legal bill taxpayers will have to pay — all because the City does not believe it has to follow open records laws that ensure the free flow of public information to those very same taxpayers.”

The newspaper filed its lawsuit in January, alleging the City has been violating the Texas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in a number of ways and on a consistent basis. After the 2019 Labor Day weekend mass shooting in Odessa, city officials began requiring the newspaper to file freedom of information requests for police reports and probable cause affidavits, routine crime reports that have always been considered public record readily accessible by any citizen.

The lawsuit alleges the City would delay the release of the reports — often for weeks or months — by referring each request to the state attorney general’s office for review. And when reports ultimately were handed over to the newspaper, portions — sometimes large sections — were blacked out.

The newspaper is asking in its lawsuit that a judge issue an order mandating the City to comply with the FOIA, which specifies the type of information the public is entitled to and without having to file a formal request to access.