While the publishers of our local mug shot magazines keep scrapping for gas station counter space, Mugly!'s J. Martin Ward has been battling on a second front: a slow-motion rumble with police departments in Arlington and Irving over access to their mug shots and jail records.
Mugly! runs on a steady diet of photos from Dallas and Fort Worth police, but Arlington and Irving police kicked Ward's records requests up to the Texas Attorney General's office, suggesting his request for "Booking Photos/Mugshots on every individual arrested" within a range of dates, "as well as the jail log for the same time period," fell under an exceptions to Texas open records law. As Irving Police legal advisor Les Moore wrote back then, Ward's request "appears to be a very general/broad request for unspecified information," and based on past rulings from the AG's office, "general requests for unspecified records are protected by common-law privacy."
Late last month, though, Assistant Attorney General Sarah Casterline wrote back to say there's nothing in the law to keep the mug shots from being released to the publisher. Under Texas law, common-law privacy protects material that's both "intimate or embarrassing" and "not of legitimate concern to the public," but -- without getting too specific -- Casterline says Ward's records request definitely doesn't meet both those tests. "We find that the submitted information is either not intimate or embarrassing or is of legitimate public interest," she writes, ruling the Irving PD must give Mugly! its mug shots. (Jump for the full opinion from the AG's office.)
"Basically, it's a win for accountability and transparency in government pursuant to the open records laws in Texas," Ward tells Unfair Park, speaking in his usual lightning-fast sound-bite assembly line. "We're already spending all this money on public safety. I want to see the result, and the law says I can." Ward says.
A request for one person's criminal history could fall under a privacy exemption, Casterline writes, but not a request for all the records in a specific date range. Arlington police are disputing a similar request from Ward, so it stands to reason the AG's office will side with Ward in that case too -- though he's still waiting for an answer. Still waiting for his records request in Irving to be filled too, nearly a month since the AG's ruling.
"We'll take the Paris Hiltons and the $30,000 millionaires and the poor folks dealing drugs. They're all equal in the eyes of the law, and they're all equal in the paper," Ward says. "You get a bigger mug shot if you're a pervert, or if your mugshot's really funny."
Irving PD Request for Ruling From TAG 4.20.10
Texas Attorney General Response to Irving PD Request for Ruling 6.29.10