In a major blow to the state’s government transparency laws, Texas’ highest criminal court has struck down a significant provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act, calling it “unconstitutionally vague.”
That law, which imposes basic requirements providing for public access to and information about governmental meetings, makes it a crime for public officials to “knowingly [conspire] to circumvent this chapter by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations.” Craig Doyal, the Montgomery County judge, was indicted under that statute for allegedly conducting “secret deliberations,” without a quorum of the commissioners court present, about a November 2015 county road bond.
Doyal filed to have the charges dismissed, claiming the statute was unconstitutional. The case eventually made it to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which handed him a victory Wednesday.
“We do not doubt the legislature’s power to prevent government officials from using clever tactics to circumvent the purpose and effect of the Texas Open Meetings Act,” Presiding Judge Sharon Keller wrote for the majority. “But the statute before us wholly lacks any specificity, and any narrowing construction we could impose would be just a guess, an imposition of our own judicial views. This we decline to do.”