The attorney general's office has weighed in on the ongoing back-and-forth over releasing the details of a multimillion-dollar settlement between the Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency, or TWIA, and the attorney for Hurricane Ike homeowners. In an opinion released this afternoon, the office says, "a court cannot order TWIA to withhold information" encompassed under the state's public information act "unless that information is expressly made confidential under other law." It goes on further to say that "TWIA may not rely upon the injunction and standing orders to withhold the remaining requested information."
State Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, has been seeking the details of how much TWIA paid out to 2,400 homeowners after they sued the quasi-state agency after the 2008 storm. They were successful in getting a settlement with the help of a team of trial lawyers, and the mediation was led by Democratic donor Steve Mostyn's law firm. Taylor originally put in a request directly to TWIA General Manager Jim Oliver for information, but Mostyn, whose firm handled much of the mediation on the settlements, immediately got a temporary restraining order to stop the information from being released. That injunction has been in place for several weeks now.
After the first restraining order, Taylor subsequently sent an open records request to Oliver, who then kicked up the records question to the attorney general's office. Now it appears that the AG opinion overrides the injunction by saying Oliver should release any information encompassed under the state open records law unless it's "expressly made confidential under another law."
“I applaud General Abbott’s opinion in this important public policy matter," Taylor said in a statement. "TWIA is a governmental entity created by the Texas Legislature and we, as legislators, have important oversight responsibility. I found the ruling particularly instructive on the issue of separation of powers.”
At issue now is which details will spill out of this open records request. Mostyn has always objected most fiercely to the release of private information of the individual homeowners involved in the suits and the legal fees levied by the attorneys. It is still unclear whether the information Oliver is now free to release will include all those details. I'm waiting on a call back from Mostyn, and I'll update when we get a response.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.