This week the Texas Supreme Court made no grants, but issued three opinions. The Court’s opinion dealing with attorney-client privilege in the context of the Texas Public Information Act is of particular interest.
Attorney General Ken Paxton v. City of Dallas – 15-0073:
The principle issue in this case is whether attorney-client privilege constitutes a compelling reason to rebut the public-disclosure presumption arising by the failure to meet the 10-day deadline under Section 552.302 of the Texas Public Information Act.
In this case, the City of Dallas received 2 public-information requests but failed to make a timely request an attorney general opinion affirming the City’s decision that the information requested is not subject to disclosure. The Attorney General ruled that attorney-client privilege did not constitute a compelling reason to withhold the request sufficient to rebut the public-disclosure presumption. In the trial-court proceedings that followed, one court agreed with the Attorney General and held that the City did not have a compelling reason to withhold the information. The other court held that the information was protected from public disclosure because attorney-client privilege is a compelling reason. These cases were appealed to the Thirteenth Court of Appeals and the Third Court of Appeals, respectively.
The Thirteenth Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s holding that attorney-client privilege was not a compelling reason to rebut the public-disclosure presumption. The Third Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s holding that attorney-client privilege is a compelling reason to withhold information.
Reasoning that attorney-client privilege “has been a cornerstone of our legal system for nearly 500 years” and that the “interests protected and secured by the promise of confidentiality are … quintessentially imperative,” the Texas Supreme Court held that attorney-client privilege is a compelling reason to rebut the public-disclosure presumption and that failing to timely request an attorney general opinion does not waive the privilege.