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April 15, 1999

Mr. John Bradley
First Assistant District Attorney
Williamson County
405 M.L.K., No. 1
Georgetown, Texas 78626

OR99-1027

Dear Mr. Bradley:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 125287.

The Williamson County District Attorney's Office received a request for various information related to a criminal case. You seek to withhold the requested information under sections 552.028, 552.103, and 552.108 of the Government Code.

Section 552.028 provides:

  • A governmental body is not required to accept or comply with

a request for information from an individual who is imprisoned or confined in a correctional facility.

  • Subsection (a) does not prohibit a governmental body from

disclosing to an individual described by that subsection information held by the governmental body pertaining to that individual.

(c) In this section, "correctional facility" has the meaning assigned

by Section 1.07(a), Penal Code.

Gov't Code 552.028. You advise that the defendant in the case to which the request relates was convicted and is currently an inmate in the Institutional Division of the Department of Criminal Justice, and that the requestor, the defendant's wife, has stated that she is making the request on behalf of the defendant. We understand you to contend that, because the requestor is acting as the inmate's agent, you may decline to comply with the request. We agree with your construction for two reasons.

First, we are bound to construe statutes in ways so as not to produce an absurd or unreasonable result. City of Wilmer v. Laidlaw Waste Sys. (Dallas), Inc., 890 S.W.2d 459, 465 (Tex. App.--Dallas 1994), aff'd, 904 S.W.2d 656 (Tex. 1995); see State Highway Dep't. v. Gorham, 162 S.W.2d 934 (Tex. 1942); Anderson v. Penix, 161 S.W.2d 455 (Tex. 1942). A construction of section 552.028 that would permit a governmental body to decline to comply with a request submitted by an inmate, on the one hand, but that would require the governmental body to comply with one submitted by an inmate's agent, on the other, is absurd on its face. We decline to adopt such a construction.

Second, construing the provision to require a governmental body to comply with a request submitted by an inmate's agent while at the same time permitting that governmental body to ignore a request submitted by the inmate himself would entail a manifest circumvention of the provision and frustrate the obvious intent of the legislature when it enacted section 552.028. A bill analysis for House Bill No. 949 describes the evil that the legislation was designed to prevent:

Currently, Texas inmates are able to receive information through Chapter [552], Government Code (Public Information Act). Through this avenue, inmates have been using information obtained through Chapter [552] to file bogus income tax returns on correctional officers, harass nurses at their home addresses, and send mail to the homes of Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees.

Tex. Sen. Criminal Justice Comm., Bill Analysis, Tex. H.B. 949, 74th Leg., R.S. (1995) (quoting from "Background") (available through Senate Research Center). If an agent of an inmate were permitted to avail himself of the Public Information Act to obtain information on behalf of an inmate who otherwise would be prevented by section 552.028 from obtaining the information, the manifest intention of the legislature would be thwarted. See Crimmins v. Lowry, 691 S.W.2d 582, 584 (Tex. 1985) ("legislative intent is the law itself, and must be enforced if determined although it may not be consistent with the strict letter of the statute").

We conclude that section 552.028 of the Government Code, which permits a governmental body to decline to accept or comply with a request for information that is submitted by an individual who is imprisoned or confined in a correctional facility, also permits a governmental body to decline to accept or comply with a request that is submitted by that person's agent. Since we have disposed of this matter under section 552.028, we need not address your other claimed exceptions to disclosure.

We are resolving this matter with an informal letter ruling rather than with a published open records decision. This ruling is limited to the particular records at issue under the facts presented to us in this request and should not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records. If you have questions about this ruling, please contact our office.

Sincerely,

William Walker
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

WMW/eaf

Ref.: ID# 125287

cc: Ms. Donna Ann Thomas
1402 Roxbury Drive
Monett, Missouri 65708
 

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