Updated: Combs to Appeal Deposition Ruling

Comptroller Susan Combs giving a biennial revenue estimate in Austin on Jan. 10, 2011.
Comptroller Susan Combs giving a biennial revenue estimate in Austin on Jan. 10, 2011.

Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs was ordered to participate in a three-hour deposition in the aftermath of the largest privacy breach by a state agency in Texas history.

Allen Spelce, a communications official in Combs' office, said in an email the Attorney General will be representing the state in legal action and will appeal the court's ruling on a deposition.

In April, Combs acknowledged the personal data for about 3.5 million people, including individuals from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, the Texas Workforce Commission and the Employees Retirement System of Texas, were publically accessible in a server at the state comptroller’s office, some for as long as a year.

On Monday, Travis County District Judge Rhonda Hurley ordered Combs to submit to the deposition after the Texas Civil Rights Project brought legal action. The petition for deposition was filed by two attorneys from the Texas Civil Rights Project, Chuck Herring and Jim Harrington. Additionally, a designated representative of Combs has been ordered to a six-hour deposition.

The petition requesting a deposition to investigate a potential claim or suit is “often the first step taken by lawyers, leading to formal litigation, and allows attorneys to get enough information to form the basis of a lawsuit,” according to a press release sent by Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project.

The security breach publicized names, mailing addresses, Social Security numbers, and some other information, including dates of births and drivers license numbers. The exact amount of personal losses for the individuals is currently unknown, but to date, the breach has cost taxpayers $1.8 million. 

“We hope the depositions will help guide our next legal step, whatever it may be, to try to rectify and undue this egregious malfeasance, to the extent possible,” Harrington said.

The deposition is seeking to gather information including the reason information was left exposed, and how and why the event occurred. It also seeks who is to blame for the disclosure, both within Combs’ office and in other agencies involved. The deposition will also inquire as to how and when officials in Combs’ office discovered the breach, and why officials allegedly delayed reporting the disclosures. It also seeks to find out all rules, regulations and statutes the breach violated. The deposition will also aim to find the damages and financial losses the breach has cost Texans to date, what further damages the exposure could yield in the future, and who is financially and ultimately responsible.

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