Statue of Limitations

By Vanessa E. Curry
Sports Correspondent
One of the most poignant headlines I read in the wake of the Penn State sex scandal appeared in large letters next to a photograph of workers removing Coach Joe Paterno’s likeness from outside Beaver Stadium. It read: STATUE OF LIMITATIONS.
There is so much meaning in those three words — a clever twist of the legal term statute of limitations.
Dedicated fans called him “JoePa,” a term of endearment for a man who dedicated his entire coaching career — 45 years as head coach for the Nittany Lions — to the sport and the players he loved.
His skill and dedication earned him numerous accolades including a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame. Until recently his statue stood outside his home turf near a plaque extolling him as an “educator, coach, and humanitarian.”
The plaque also recorded his own words; “They asked me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone. I hope they write I’ve made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach.”
Paterno is gone. He died in January of lung cancer.
But his hopes and dreams of how he would be remembered were dashed by his own actions, and/or inaction as it appears to be.
An investigation conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh concluded Paterno and other former University officials shielded Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach now convicted of raping young boys.
Current Penn State officials are distancing themselves from Paterno despite his legacy as a winning coach. The decision to remove the statue and plaques from the stadium, as well as actions taken by others, sends a strong message that there are limitations to what society will overlook, even for the sake of a football “great.”
It is truly a sad state of affairs for Penn State, the Paterno family, and certainly for Sandusky’s victims.
The question of whether Paterno was a good coach is arguable. The question of whether he left Penn State a better place is not.
Maybe it is wise to remember Shakespeare’s words of the great Roman ruler Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”

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Tennis anyone?

I normally don’t like shooting tennis, but today was a good day, so I thought I would share a few shots of Tyler Junior College and The University of Texas at Tyler playing (not each other). The young lady is Kerrie Cartwright and the young man in the middle and right picture is Edward Timponi.

Have a ball

Softball is one of my favorite sports to photograph. I didn’t have the opportunity to shoot this sport while in high school because we didn’t have a team.

My shutter speed should be a little higher to stop the softball. Second base is a great place for photo action, but you still have to be prepared and fast. I actually took a sequence of shots when the second baseman dived to stop the grounder and then tossed it up to the shortstop at second to get the out.

This is UT Tyler Patriots playing Southwestern Pirates on Sunday in Tyler.

Red Tape?

I know a little more than the average person about the Texas Public Information Act because I have studied it or used it for so long, however, I still get confused by the seemingly conflicting rules. I’m not an attorney, and I don’t play one on television so I must rely upon the Texas Attorney General to settle the issue about my request for the details of a settlement between former Smith County employee Wynthia M. Savoring and Prec. 5 Constable Dennis Taylor. Savoring sued her former boss for sexual harassment. Taylor refused my written request, claiming a federal magistrate issued a non-disclosure order in the case.

Since Taylor has refused, he must seek a decision from the Attorney General’s office. In documents sent to Attorney General Gregg Abbott, Smith County officials rely upon rules under the Texas Civil Practice and Remedy Code as well as PIA exceptions to support their case against disclosure. Assistant District Attorney Stan Springerly  notes in his request to the AG that the magistrate who mediated the settlement “specifically excluded the details of the settlement.”

I reviewed the PIA and found several passages that support my contention that the settlement details should be disclosed. I’ve included excerpts from the Public Information Handbook:

b. Court Order

Section 552.022(b) prohibits a court in this state from ordering a governmental body to withhold from public disclosure information in the section 552.022 categories unless the information is confidential under this chapter or other law.   Thus, although section 552.107(2) of the Act excepts from disclosure information that a court has ordered to be kept confidential, section 552.022 effectively limits the applicability of that subsection and the authority of a court to order confidentiality.

G. Section 552.107:  Certain Legal Matters

Section 552.107 of the Government Code states that information is excepted from required public disclosure if:

(1) it is information that the attorney general or an attorney of a political subdivision is prohibited from disclosing because of a duty to the client under the Texas Rules of Evidence or the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct; or

(2) a court by order has prohibited disclosure of the information.

This section has two distinct aspects:  subsection (1) protects information within the attorney-client privilege, and subsection (2) protects information that a court has ordered to be kept confidential.


2. Information Protected by Court Order

Section 552.107(2) excepts from disclosure information that a court has ordered a governmental body to keep confidential.  Prior to the amendment of section 552.022 in 1999, governmental bodies often relied on section 552.107(2) to withhold from disclosure the terms of a settlement agreement if a court had issued an order expressly prohibiting the parties to the settlement agreement or their attorney from disclosing the terms of the agreement.   Under the current version of section 552.022, however, a state court may not order a governmental body or an officer for public information to withhold from public disclosure any category of information listed in section 552.022 unless the information is confidential under this chapter or other law.   A settlement agreement to which a governmental body is a party is one category of information listed in section 552.022.462

The above information brings up some other issues:

• the PIA applies to STATE courts. This lawsuit was brought in federal court.

• Although the minutes of the settlement proceedings are entered into court records, they are not open to the public, therefore, there is no way for a member of the public to know of the non-disclosure order.

Complicated isn’t it? Well, the AG’s office has 45 business days to return a decision ( not an “opinion,” as Springerley notes.)

As I said before, I leave the interpretations of the rules to the AG and hope it favors transparency. The intention of the PIA is to have an transparent government and I can’t think of anything more of public interest than the conduct of two county employees (one elected) whose salaries are paid by the taxpayers.

I don’t need to know the sordid details of the allegations and counter allegations … I just want to know how much this conduct cost us taxpayers. After all… they are public servants and it’s our money!

County seeking AG’s opinion

Smith County officials decided Friday to seek an attorney general’s opinion about a request to disclose the details of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the county and Constable Dennis Taylor. Court liaison Adrienne Graham notified me by telephone Friday afternoon and said officials agreed to seek an opinion after discussing the issue with Taylor and the county’s attorney.

Requesting Federal Intervention

In an effort to exhaust all local options, I filed a request in federal court Friday morning asking Justice Leonard Davis to determine there is no compelling reason to keep details of a sexual harassment lawsuit settlement filed against Smith County and Constable Dennis Taylor secret. I filed the request after Taylor and Smith County rejected open records requests for the information and failed to seek an Attorney General’s opinion. Both defending parties claim they do not have the information and the document is “sealed” by federal court anyway. A search through court documents filed in the case did not find such an order. Smith County officials also claim state law allows non-disclosure in such civil cases.

More ignorance of the law

Smith County Constable Dennis Taylor rejected an open records request filed Thursday at his Lindale office and chastised the requester as being politically motivated. Taylor claims he doesn’t have a copy of the settlement agreement he signed in a sexual harassment lawsuit and also contends the agreement is “sealed” in federal court anyway. A search of federal court records in Tyler found no such order. Taylor refused to accept a written open records request or seek a legal opinion from the Texas Attorney General. The constable also questioned the requester about her identity and motive for wanting the information. “Why don’t you come up here wanting to know how much money I’ve saved the county?” Taylor asked. The Texas Public Information Act requires a government entity to accept written requests, to seek an attorney general’s opinion if the government entity declines to turn over requested information and  prohibits a government official from questioning a requester in most cases.