The sheriff email fight is still on

April 4, 2008 7:16:12 PM PDT
KTRK-TV is again taking on the Harris County Sheriff over access to public information. This was the third time Channel 13's gone to court to try to force the sheriff to turn over email. Thursday the sheriff was about to sign off on a deal that would've done just that. His lawyer encouraged him to do it. Then the sheriff changed his mind and went back to court.

This entire argument is about email. Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas' and his staff's email.

In the midst of Chuck Rosenthal's email issues and after we had asked for some of the sheriff's own email, the sheriff ordered the deletion of more than 700,000 email messages.

A move that surprised even his own staffers and Channel 13 thought was a little strange.

"It can be viewed as suspicious that two days after Mr. Dolcefino interviews Sheriff Thomas, this email comes out ordering the deletion of every email more than 14 days old," said KTRK attorney John Edwards.

The station filed a lawsuit in January and asked a judge to order the sheriff to turn the emails over. It's the third time we've been to court. A trip even the county attorney seems to think shouldn't have been necessary.

"We thought we had the case settled on a number of occasions," said Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford. "Yesterday a little before 10, the sheriff called and he had grave reservations about settling the case."

Just before that call, Channel 13 understood the sheriff had agreed to turn all the email over and even pay the station's legal costs. But when the sheriff changed his mind, the county attorney says he has no choice but to fight it out in court.

When he fights you pay for it. And no one knows what the sheriff is still trying to keep secret.

"We have to be able to watch public officials and how they engage in public business," Edwards said. "This is one way of doing it."

When the sheriff deleted the 700,000 emails, they were moved to a back up tape. The department says anything on backup tapes is exempt from public disclosure, but that anything they are required to save they did.

As Judge David Bernal pointed out, we just have to take the department's word that they saved anything the law says they should have.

The judge's ruling could come as soon as Monday.

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