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Appeals court rules lawsuit seeking Jan. 6 emails from Texas governor, attorney general can move forward

Opening Day action of the 88th Texas Legislature at the Texas Capitol showing Attorney General Ken Paxton conferring with Gov. Greg Abbott outside the Senate chamber before his swearing in ceremony in Jan. 10, 2023.
Opening Day action of the 88th Texas Legislature at the Texas Capitol showing Attorney General Ken Paxton conferring with Gov. Greg Abbott outside the Senate chamber before his swearing in ceremony in Jan. 10, 2023. Credit: Bob Daemmrich for the Texas Tribune

A lawsuit to force two Texas leaders to release years of their emails, including about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, can move forward thanks to a Wednesday appeals court decision.

The Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled that Attorney General Ken Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott did not make the case for the lawsuit against them to be thrown out.

The decision was a major win for American Oversight, the Washington-DC based nonprofit that sued for access to the records after being rebuffed by the state. The group’s executive director called the decision “a tremendous victory for transparency.”

“American Oversight is seeking records related to matters of significant public interest and the appeals court was correct to reject this effort to evade accountability. We hope that Gov. Abbott and Attorney General Paxton will stop their delay and finally release these records to the public,” Heather Sawyer said in a statement.

Abbott and Paxton can appeal the decision. Neither responded to requests for comment on Wednesday.

American Oversight filed the lawsuit in June 2022 after unsuccessfully requesting communications from the two Texas leaders. The group wanted access to years of Abbott and Paxton’s communications, including both men’s emails with NRA officials and Paxton’s emails in the days around Jan. 6, 2021.

Paxton attended and spoke at the pro-Donald Trump rally before the attack on the U.S. Capitol that year. The attorney general has declined to say who paid for his trip to DC, and has refused to release his communications from before, during and after the event.

Abbott and Paxton said their offices did not have any communications with NRA officials. They refused to release the other records, citing rules protecting confidential communications with attorneys and discussions about pending lawsuits.

In their response to the lawsuit, they argued that only the Texas Supreme Court could compel the attorney general to act in this instance. They also said no court could force the governor's hand in this case.

A lower court said these arguments did not hold water.

On Wednesday, the appeals court justices agreed, and also rejected Abbott and Paxton’s arguments that the lawsuit should be tossed because they released some very limited records in response to American Oversight’s requests.

The justices who wrote the opinion are Darlene Byrne, Chari L. Kelly and Rosa Lopez Theofanis. All three are Democrats.