In early January, Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas implemented a brand new email policy. Surprising even his own employees, he deleted 800,000 sheriff's department emails.
It was any email more than two weeks old.
Since state law treats many emails as public records, Channel 13 thought the new policy was against the law and asked for a copy of the deleted emails. The station thought it had an agreement with the sheriff's department, but the sheriff later refused to turn the emails over which brought the station back to court Wednesday afternoon.
13 Undercover's Wayne Dolcefino showed up to court with a KTRK lawyer this afternoon to sue the sheriff's department and the sheriff himself.
"We're shocked and dismayed it's come to this," said KTRK lawyer John Edwards.
It is the second time the station went to court to get the sheriff department's emails. On January 19th, a judge issued an order preventing the sheriff's department from destroying any emails. Six days later, the sheriff's lawyer agreed to recover any emails that were already deleted. The sheriff's department apparently put them on a back up tape for safe keeping. But when 13 Undercover asked for those emails under state law, the sheriff's department told the station state law doesn't require them to turn anything over from backup tapes.
KTRK calls that "gamesmanship" and is asking a judge to find the sheriff in contempt of court.
"The only explanation we got was that since the emails are now on back up tape, they're no longer subject to public disclosure," Edwards said. "We think the orders of the court are clear what their obligations were and we think they're in violation of the court orders. We'll ask the court to have a hearing and find them in contempt."
The sheriff's department says they are in full compliance with all court orders and agreements. And will not comment any more on pending lawsuits.
If held in contempt, the sheriff and his office could be fined and required to turn over the email.