Whatcha Hidin', Jim Foster?

Well, I never meant to get the attorney general involved.

Just a few weeks ago, I made a rather innocuous request of Dallas County Judge Jim Foster. I wanted a copy of his appointments, schedules, public appearances and out-of-town trips for a story I was working on about what efforts, if any, the Democrat has made to fight for a strong clean air plan. I’ve been told those efforts are rather modest, in stark contrast to Margaret Keliher, his Republican predecessor, who made remarkable progress on that front in her one term in office.

When I first talked to Foster shortly after his surprise election, he froze when I asked him a softball question about his plan to address air quality issues in Texas. And when I mean Foster froze, I mean a deer in headlights looked cool, purposeful and ready to pounce, compared to how our new county judge behaved when I asked him a question about a purportedly Democratic value. So rather than go through that all again and see him make the Jim Foster face, I figured I’d first take a look at his actions.

After all, if he met with environmentalists, went to Austin to lobby lawmakers on tighter air quality control measures and went to various conferences, maybe I can cut him some slack. He’s an accident, after all. Never really wanted this job to start. So if he’s at least doing a little work here and there on one of the most important issues facing county government, that would be good enough for me. I have no problem grading on a curve.

Initially, Foster’s patient and professional assistant, Bob Johnston, told me it wouldn’t be a problem responding to my request. All they’d have to do is print it out from their main computer and hand it to me.

But Foster protested and had Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, the one Democrat who has actually earned respect since taking office, appeal my request to the Greg Abbott, the Texas Attorney General. Yesterday, a copy of their appeal arrived in my in box:

“The contents of this calendar show a pattern of the Judge’s comings and goings, and identify the locations of certain regularly kept appointments. If released, this information could potentially place the judge in danger of physical harm.”

This is like getting turned down for an autograph by the bass player for the Verve Pipe. In the local political landscape, Jim Foster is as obscure as they come and he has done everything in his power to keep it that way. No one wants to assassinate him; most would just like to resuscitate him. This is a guy who can go 45 minutes without saying a word at a key county meeting. And, it’s worth noting that Tom Leppert releases his schedule. So did Laura Miller. But, somehow, Foster, unlike our mayor, is a hot target.

I asked Moria Schilke, the assistant district attorney assigned to this case, a rather indignant question: Why did Foster let Jim Schutze see his schedule but not me? I mean, I don’t ignore reporter’s phone calls and e-mails. Well, her answer was that my request was for a longer bloc of time. This is the fine distinction upon which their appeal rests. I have a feeling that very patient and thoughtful Schilke didn’t go to law school for this.

Anyway, the attorney general has 10 days to rule on the county’s appeal. I don’t think there’s any way he’ll rule in their favor, in part because of this rather recognized concept where public officials’ public business is public information. And when that happens and I see Foster’s highly coveted schedule, I’ll see what sort of pattern it shows while dutifully protecting it from the hordes of people who would seek to harm the most anonymous man in county government. --Matt Pulle

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