Update: At the board meeting today, the policy manual subcommittee informed the board it was delaying action on this proposal to allow for more study.
The State Bar of Texas Board of Directors is considering a policy that would establish a process for handling certain internal records requests from State Bar officers and directors.
The proposed policy sets forth guidelines for records requests from officers and directors other than requests subject to the Texas Public Information Act, or TPIA. The State Bar would continue to follow the TPIA and all applicable state and federal law in providing public access to State Bar records.
The board’s executive committee voted 11-1 to approve the proposed policy during its January 11 meeting, with President-elect Joe K. Longley voting against it. The full board of directors will consider the policy for approval at its January 26 board meeting in San Antonio.
Under the proposed policy, requests by an officer or director for State Bar records not subject to the TPIA would first be submitted to the State Bar executive director in writing, with a copy to all officers and the chair of the board.
The executive director would then review the records pursuant to a “reasonable procedure,” to be developed in consultation with the president, president-elect, immediate past president, and the chair of the board. The executive director would also determine whether state or federal law restricted compliance with a request.
It is anticipated that the executive director will respond directly and fully to most internal requests from officers and directors. The policy would come in to play only if the executive director felt the need to seek the guidance and will of the board regarding how to respond to a particular request. A majority vote by the board of directors would be required to accept or deny an officer’s or director’s request. Forty-six directors from across the state make up the State Bar board’s voting members.
Under the proposed policy, in the event a requesting officer or director disagrees with the decision of the executive director regarding a records request, they may appeal the decision to the board of directors. The majority vote of the board would be needed to make the final determination.
The executive director manages the State Bar’s day-to-day operations and by statute serves as its public information officer and custodian of records. But currently, the State Bar lacks a policy on how to handle requests from officers and directors for records not subject to the TPIA when the executive director has concerns about a particular request, President Tom Vick said.
“The idea is to set up a procedure so that when these [internal records] requests are made, that they can be complied with, and if somebody is not satisfied with the decision made on the E.D. [executive director] level, who is the keeper of our records, then it provides for an appeal to the board,” Vick said during the executive committee meeting. “So the board gets to make that decision.”
Longley opposed the policy, saying, “We don’t need a gatekeeper to let us see what we’re entitled to as officers and directors of the State Bar of Texas.” Any officer or director “should be able to access, confidentially, documents that are on the State Bar server or email that is a State Bar record as defined in the proposal,” Longley said.