In accordance with democratic values, the State of Texas provides the freedom to access court records to both citizens and noncitizens, as stipulated in Section 552.221 (a) that says, “custodian of records must make the records accessible to any person.”
Access to public records is allowed if due process is observed. However, no matter how free the state of Texas is, there are still restrictions and prohibitions regarding the disclosure of court records, as stated in the laws set by the government.
Anybody can make a public records request in Texas. If you want to learn more about court records requests, you may visit https://www.nfoic.org/coalitions/state-foi-resources/texas-foia-laws.
Texas created the Public Information Act of Texas, or the TPIA, in which laws pertaining to public access to court records of government bodies are clearly written and stipulated. The Texas Government Code Chapter 552 provides the populace the right to access court documents at all levels of government within Texas. Before the TPIA was passed, the records were free to be accessed without the person even declaring what their purpose was. The law was formalized so that the custodian of the records was given discretion whether or not to release the documents to the public. Of course, the custodian cannot release records that they are prohibited from accessing.
All government files are presumed to be accessible to the public. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission lists the rights of the citizens to access public records. First, the citizen requesting the documents must receive prompt attention and can obtain information that is not confidential and is not protected from public access. An itemized estimate of costs must be provided by the government agency if the requests exceed $40 in fees. In connection with the fees, the citizen can then adjust and change the requests accordingly. Most information can be accessed for free, but obtaining a copy will require administrative fees. On some occasions, fees can be reduced by the government agencies if they perceive that accessing a certain type of information would benefit the general population. Through the General Service Commission, the public can question fee overcharges and address other significant complaints to the state attorney.
The TPIA covers most of the documents that are government owned and are covered by the law. Those documents that are labeled “draft” are free for the public to access as determined by the Texas Supreme Court. In addition to this, any forms that contain extraneous information and are not labeled whether they are public or not, are accessible to the public, such as printouts, photographs, microfilm, sound recordings, and the like. The Texas Public Information Act also includes any documents possessed by any included agencies, regardless of how the documents were obtained by the agencies. Lastly, the 2008 attorney general’s publication allows the public to access personal notes and e-mails under the TPIA. However, pursuant to privacy issues, exemptions are made for access to public employees’ birthdates. The Texas Supreme Court recently decided to exclude public employees’ birthdates from public access to protect them from misuse of identity by criminals, theft, and the like.
The Texas Public Information Act allows anybody to request public information. The reason a citizen is requesting the documents is not questioned if the documents are covered by the TPIA. However, the requestor must provide identification and a list of documents the requestor wishes to obtain. A period of 10 days is required to process any public records request, as stipulated in the Texas law. The cost of the requested documents will be discussed with the requestor by the government agency concerned.