Appell contends newspaper has done nothing wrong

Nicole D. Perez, Alice Echo-News Journal

The Alice Echo-News Journal has hired local attorney Mike Appell to represent it and reporter Christopher Maher in a lawsuit filed by Coastal Bend College.

CBC has filed a temporary restraining order against Maher demanding the return of copies of DVDs containing email communications between staff members at the college.

A hearing has been set for Monday in Sinton regarding the order, which was filed against eight other defendants, who include former employees of the CBC and their attorneys.

Appell contends the temporary order should never have been heard in Bee County as the jurisdiction in the case lies in Jim Wells County.

"The suit was improperly filed in Bee County when venue should and does lie in Jim Wells," Appell said. "The Echo has done nothing wrong, having obtained the documents through legal means and has the right to have them. I look forward to having the matter adjudicated in Jim Wells County."

Maher obtained the DVDs from the 79th District Clerk's office in May after filing a Freedom of Information request.

The files had been placed with the court for safe keeping on April 30 after former CBC employee Anthony Sanders feared college officials destroyed records in violation of the Freedom of Information Act, according to court records.

Sanders, a former computer network supervisor for the college, said officials with the college shredded paper documents and deleted email records to keep them from being released to the public.

According to the application filed with the 79th District Court, Sanders was approached on Feb. 9 by CBC Director of Personnel Kathlyn Patton, who asked Sanders to back up all emails on her computer.

Patton told Sanders the reason for the backup was that "I know they are starting to ask for emails," the application stated.

Sanders then made two backups of the information, giving one copy to Patton and keeping the other, according to court documents.

CBC is now demanding the return of the DVDs and demands to be told what documents the defendants have read, claiming the documents fall under attorney-client privilege. CBC is represented by attorney Phillip McKinney.

Tony Morris, publisher of the Alice Echo-News Journal, says he questions the college's motives.

"I find it suprising and disappointing that a tax-funded entity such as Coastal Bend College would work so hard in order to operate under a complete shroud of secrecy," he said. "When you see an entity this aggressive in an attempt to hide documents and information legally obtained and that are clearly open to the public, one must question what their true motives are."

Moreover, Morris contends the documents should be reviewed to determine which, if any, fall under attorney-client privilege.

"While some of those records may be considered confidential, that is not for their attorney to decide," Morris said. "I can't imagine Mr. McKinney would be so naive to assume that every communication he has with his client is privileged."