|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
August 29, 2000
Mr. Joe De Los Santos
Dear Mr. De Los Santos:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 138436.
The Columbus Independent School District (the "school district"), which you represent, received a request for all attorney fees and any other "cost records" related to a specific student. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.103 and 552.107 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted representative sample of information at issue.(1)
A bill for attorney's fees is subject to disclosure under section 552.022(a) of the Public Information Act. Section 552.022(a) provides in relevant part:
(a) Without limiting the amount or kind of information that is public information under this chapter, the following categories of information are public information and not excepted from required disclosure under this chapter unless they are expressly confidential under other law:
. . .
(16) information that is in a bill for attorney's fees and that is not privileged under the attorney-client privilege[.]
Gov't Code § 552.022(a)(16). For the purposes of section 552.022(a), section 552.103 of the Government Code does not constitute "other law" that makes information expressly confidential. See Open Records Decision No. 665 at 2 n.5 (2000) (explaining that sections 552.103 and 552.111 are not confidentiality provisions). Therefore, the school district may not withhold any of the submitted information under section 552.103. Thus, with the exception of any information that is subject to the attorney-client privilege under section 552.107(1), the contents of the submitted bills for attorney's fees are subject to required public disclosure under section 552.022(a)(16) and must be released.
Accordingly, we address whether the attorney-client privilege applies to the requested information. Section 552.107(1) excepts information from disclosure if:
it is information that the attorney general or an attorney of a political subdivision is prohibited from disclosing because of a duty to the client under the Texas Rules of Civil Evidence, the Texas Rules of Criminal Evidence, or the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.
Gov't Code § 552.107(1). In Open Records Decision No. 574 (1990), this office concluded that section 552.107 excepts from public disclosure only "privileged information," that is, information that reflects either confidential communications from the client to the attorney or the attorney's legal advice or opinions; it does not apply to all client information held by a governmental body's attorney. Id. at 5. Section 552.107(1) does not protect purely factual information. Id. The attorney general explicitly found that a governmental body may withhold information in an attorney fee bill only to the extent that the information reveals client confidences or the attorney's legal advice. See Open Records Decision No. 589 (1991). Moreover, in Open Records Decision No. 589, the attorney general determined that the "attorney-client privilege" exception did not protect a requested list of "phone calls and conferences regarding a particular matter" or indications that an attorney had reviewed documents relevant to the attorney's representation of the government body. We have reviewed the submitted fee bills and find that they contain some information that is privileged under section 552.107(1). Therefore, pursuant to section 552.022(a)(16), the school district may withhold the types of information that we have marked, and must release the remainder of the requested information to the requestor.
This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.
This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code § 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. § 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. § 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. § 552.321(a).
If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. § 552.3215(e).
If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. § 552.321(a); Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408,411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).
If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.
E. Joanna Fitzgerald
Ref: ID# 138436
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Ms. Janette Harris
1. We assume that the "representative sample" of records submitted to this office is truly representative of all of the information at issue. See Open Records Decision Nos. 499 (1988), 497 (1988). This open records letter does not reach and, therefore, does not authorize the withholding of any other requested records to the extent that those records contain substantially different types of information than those submitted to this office.
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