Temporary injunction in HCSO, KTRK fight

January 25, 2008 4:12:03 PM PST
We have the latest developments in a fight over public information that you have a legal right to know. The legal debate is between ABC-13 and the Harris County Sheriff's Office. There's now a temporary agreement. The sheriff's office has agreed to stop deleting emails while the lawsuit is pending. 13 Undercover filed to get a temporary restraining order last week, so taxpayers can legally see what's going on inside the sheriff's office.

The dispute began with a January 9 letter from the sheriff's chief deputy, ordering the deletion of all emails older than 14 days. The email was two days after 13 Undercover interviewed the sheriff for a story. 13 Undercover found out about the policy and filed suit to stop it. On January 18, a temporary restraining order put a halt to the policy.

The county and 13 Undercover reached an agreed temporary injunction, which the judge approved. It prevents the sheriff's office from deleting any email other than spam until the case goes to trial in June. It also requires the sheriff "take all reasonable measures to recover and preserve any electronic mail previously destroyed, removed, concealed, altered or rendered unintelligible".

In the meantime we've seen some additional emails the sheriff sent to some of his top command staff. One refers to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as a Marxist. Another discusses the "Hero of Chappaquiddick" sarcastically mentioning Senator Kennedy's take on illegal immigration and his role in the drowning death of woman decades ago. These are just some of the emails we've seen so far.

The county has been reviewing its email policies after emails from District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal were released last month. Rosenthal is under investigation by the state attorney general after controversial emails were found on his work computer. The emails included racial jokes and pornography. Several community leaders have called for Rosenthal to resign. He has refused to do so.

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