Nicole D. Perez, Managing Editor
Richard Terrell, 79th District Judge, ordered copies of Coastal Bend College information filed with his court sealed after hearing from lawyers in the case Monday morning.
Terrell said it was important that those seeking public information, as is Alice Echo-News Journal reporter Christopher Maher, do so through the proper channels.
"It doesn't go to the courtroom first," Terrell said. "We need to get this in the proper route first."
Terrell advised Maher and another reporter who received copies of DVDs filed with the District Clerk's office to now file Public Information Act requests through the college for the information they contain.
The DVDs were filed with the 79th District Clerk's office in February by then technology supervisor Anthony Sanders, alleging documents were being destroyed by the college, namely by personnel director Kathlyn Patton, whose files were copied.
Sanders says he was asked by Patton to back up her data. Patton denies all such allegations.
Various attorneys representing former CBC employees, as well as Maher, obtained copies of those discs after filing information requests.
Terrell questioned why Sanders filed the discs with the court.
"He had no authority to do that," Terrell said of Sanders, who also had no right to the information, he said.
Maher and the attorneys surrendered the discs after a hearing in Sinton in July pending Terrell's ruling on the request by CBC to have the discs sealed by the court.
On Monday, attorneys representing CBC argued the discs were "not court records" and were not subject to the Public Information Act and should not have been disseminated or released. However, the counselors had filed for the hearing to "seal court records."
Mark Paisely, representing Maher, said the documents were indeed court records.
"Court records are presumed open to the general public," he said. "Members of the public should have access to them."
Terrell said that once the records were filed with the District Clerk's office they fell into the "public domain."
Attorney Fred McCutchon expressed concern that by sealing the discs, he and his clients would not have access to the information contained on them because he believes the records have been destroyed.
"We want these filed with a third party," McCutchon argued, "to keep the last copy of these files from being destroyed."
He said he was satisfied with the court's decision to seal the records.
Terrell pointed out that CBC was not being accused of any wrongdoing by the court.
"I'm not saying CBC is going out there and destroying anything," he said.
Phillip McKinney, representing the college, said no records have been destroyed and said the college has been painted as "conspirators."
He also hinted at a change of venue request back to Bee County.
Maher requested Terrell conduct an "in camera" review of the documents on the DVDs, which the college contends contain client-attorney priviledged information and personal information of faculty and students.
Terrell said he would consider reviewing the documents after the Public Information Act has been followed.
The Alice Echo-News Journal will be filing Public Information Act requests with the college today.