In an attempt to keep Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins's schedule private, his office has asked for an opinion from the Texas attorney general regarding a public records request for Watkins's calendar dating to his first day in office. In a May 6 letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott, Assistant District Attorney Michael Sandlin argues that publicly releasing Watkins's schedule "could compromise Mr. Watkins' safety and make him more vulnerable to being attacked."
Austin lawyer Bill Aleshire, whose firm has represented elected officials who've sought to keep their calendars from being disclosed, says he's not insensitive to Watkins's concerns -- Aleshire is a former Travis County judge -- but if such an argument were to prevail, it would create "a huge, inappropriate loophole" in public disclosure.
"I guarantee you any county commissioner or city council member that votes on a tax increase could make the same argument, or school board member who didn't do what a parent wanted to be done," Aleshire tells Unfair Park. "It's too broad an argument, and based on what I've seen of the AG's rulings on this, I don't think it's gonna fly."
Aleshire points to former Attorney General Dan Morales's lengthy 1995 opinion stating that appointment calendars for public officials are subject to public disclosure in their entirety. He says Watkins might be able to get some personal information omitted, but some of the arguments presented by his office are "pretty weak," like the one claiming "past appearances or requests to appear could establish a pattern for future appearances."
I discovered the request for an attorney general's opinion while dealing with Jamille Bradfield, public information officer for Watkins's office. After she refused to respond to e-mail and phone calls about my request for two days of Watkins's schedule, I learned that Dallas County Republican Party chair Jonathan Neerman had requested Watkins's calendar and the district attorney's office was deciding what it was going to do about it.
Neerman provided me with the relevant docs, which you can find below, including his response (addressed to "Gregg" Abbott) that refers to a similar request by former Observer reporter Matt Pulle, who asked for Dallas County Judge Jim Foster's calendar in August 2007. The attorney general later ruled in Pulle's favor, dismissing the argument from Foster that the information "could potentially place the Judge in danger of physical harm."
Watkins's request for an opinion also claims that releasing his schedule "could potentially place the District Attorney in danger of physical harm."
As Aleshire told us, attendance by elected officials at speeches and events is often advertised by organizations in advance. And, not to give anyone ideas, but it's not like Watkins is a hard man to find if you wanted to -- his home address is public record, and it's well-known that he spends a lot of time on Martin Luther King Boulevard.
My own effort to get a peek at Watkins's schedule began April 13 -- the day of former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle's retirement party. I e-mailed Bradfield to ask why Watkins didn't attend the celebration. Top representatives from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Attorney's Office and several other law enforcement agencies were on hand to honor Kunkle, so Watkins's absence was noticeable. I was just curious to know what trumped stopping by Kunkle's farewell.
The next morning, I followed up with Bradfield via e-mail and asked for a statement.
Bradfield still hadn't responded one week later when, as part of another story, I requested Watkins's schedule for April 22 and 23.
After getting no response, I left messages on Bradfield's cell phone. She never called back.
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Finally, at 4:42 p.m. yesterday, I heard from Bradfield: "Mr. Watkins feels Chief Kunkle was a great police chief and will be missed. The DA had a chance to speak with him before and after his retirement. In addition, Kunkle had nothing but good things to say about Chief Brown. Mr. Watkins has had the opportunity to meet with Chief Brown and it is clear that the relationships built under Kunkle's administration will continue and we foresee an ongoing effort in improving public safety," she wrote in an e-mail.
She still offered no response to my request for Watkins's schedule, and she declined to answer when I asked her if Watkins had instructed her not to respond to my questions.
Incidentally, every week I get a schedule -- ahead of time, mind you -- of where Mayor Tom Leppert is going to be. On this date one year ago, Leppert had a 3:30 p.m. meeting with Mary Suhm. That's one thing that I love, love, love about Mayor Tom. And I can tell you if I asked city of Dallas PIO Frank Librio if Leppert was instructing him not to respond to my requests, he most definitely would not ignore the question.Neerman ORR Response