Del Mar College has filed a lawsuit against the Attorney General’s Office after Department of Natural Science Head Dr. Jack Southard filed a Notification of Recommendation for Disciplinary Action form against biology teacher Dr. Gerald Sansing on Feb. 4, 2015.
The disciplinary action form, according to a copy of the form provided by Sansing, accused Sansing of three things:
n Failing to communicate with Southard except via email and handwritten means.
n During a physics program review, refusing to communicate with Southard, and sometimes completely ignoring inquiries about the status of the review.
n On Jan. 6, 2015, after requesting a piece of equipment be moved to Dr. Robert Hatherill’s class, Sansing allegedly told Hatherill and Southard to “go strait [sic] to hell.”
In response to these claims, Sansing filed a Texas Public Information Act form for each of said accusations to defend himself in a hearing regarding the Disciplinary Action form.
“I received an email from (Del Mar College President) Escamilla stating that my hearing was going to be held on Monday, May 18, 2015, at 1:30 p.m.,” Sansing said. “I still hadn’t received my forms that I requested to properly defend myself in this meeting. I asked if the meeting could be pushed back longer, but Escamilla refused and forced the meeting.”
According to Sansing, at the hearing, supposedly an open hearing, friends of his were there with cameras and sound devices to record the meeting, but were met by police officers hired by the college to ask the individuals to turn off any of these devices. This is against the laws of an open hearing.
You are free to record an open hearing through note-taking, sound and video recording devices and photography, as long as it is not disruptive, according to the Digital Media Law Project.
According to college’s legal counsel, Augustin Rivera Jr., the hearing was not a meeting to the governing body, so the person in charge of the hearing decides whether cameras are allowed. The purpose of not allowing cameras in the hearing was for confidentiality purposes for both the faculty member and the people holding the hearing, however, audio recording was allowed.
The Attorney General’s office had ruled that DMC must give Sansing these documents on May 1, 2015. The Attorney General ruled that:
n The litigation exception did not apply at all to the requested information.
n The attorney-client privilege did apply to the subset of the requested information identification by Del Mar as privileged.
In response, DMC hired William Christian from the Graves Doughtery Hearon & Moody firm to file a lawsuit.
According to the Public Information Handbook 2014, the purpose of the Public Information Act is to maintain the people’s control “over the instruments they have created.” The act requires the Attorney General to construe the act liberally in favor of the open government.
“What are they truly afraid of me finding in my public information act request that they would have to sue the Attorney General’s Office?” Sansing said.
At the hearing Sansing was found guilty and has appealed the Notification Recommendation for Disciplinary Action form.
“There are certain exceptions under the Texas Public Information Act that allow government entities the right to withhold documents,” Rivera said. “The college felt that under these circumstances this exception applied.”