- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Documents sought by a prominent environmental group in connection with a controversial Travis County road project were properly withheld by a county official, a district judge has ruled.

Save Our Springs Alliance accused Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty of not turning over documents it sought through an official public information request regarding the Texas 45 Southwest tollway project.

But Travis County District Judge Stephen Yelenosky ruled last week that the documents are covered by attorney-client privilege and do not need to be turned over.

The case was filed in 2013 and in the intervening time Daugherty produced additional information that he conceded was public information he had accidentally failed to produce, including texts.

But the only information Daugherty acknowledged he was retaining were email exchanges he contended were protected by attorney-client privilege.

Yelenosky agreed.

SOS Alliance executive director Bill Bunch had speculated the missing messages might show Daugherty’s communications with developers eager to see the road built.

Daugherty said the open records dispute, and allegation of illegal behavior on his part, was just a tactic to block construction of the road, whicc gave Our Springs opposes.

Environmentalists have long opposed the proposed four-lane, divided tollway, which would run from the south end of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) to FM 1626. That link would shorten the commute for people from Hays County by a few minutes and a couple of miles, and divert at least some of the traffic choking Brodie Lane, Manchaca Road and South First Street during rush hours. But it would also run atop the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer, which provides drinking water for more than 50,000 people.

The alliance submitted open records requests in 2013 for all correspondence to or from Daugherty and his assistants concerning Texas 45 Southwest. Daugherty and county officials handed over a variety of correspondence, but withheld some records under what attorneys said are exemptions to public information laws. The alliance sued for the remaining records.

On Monday, Daugherty said he was delighted with the judge’s ruling.

Bunch said that SOS feels “the violations by the commissioner were so flagrant, there should be some mandate from court to follow the law in the future.”

The judge asked for further briefing on that matter. Meanwhile, a criminal inquiry on the issue remains in the hands of the Travis county attorney.


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