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Texas Court Of Criminal Appeals Strikes Down Provision Of Open Meetings Act

Judges of the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals Court at the state Capitol. Jan. 11, 2019.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune
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Judges of the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals Court at the state Capitol. Jan. 11, 2019.

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.”

Texas Tribune provided this story.

Emma Platoff is a breaking news reporter at The Texas Tribune. She previously worked at the Tribune as a reporting fellow and is a recent graduate of Yale University, where she studied English literature and nonfiction writing. She has also worked as the managing editor of the Yale Daily News and as an intern at The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Hartford Courant.