Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:On Dec. 6 and Dec. 7, 2006, the district attorney’s office faxed three grand jury summonses to a school district’s administrative offices. The summonses directed the sheriff or another Texas peace officer to summon the school district’s superintendent as custodian of the records to testify before the grand jury and to bring certain documents maintained by the school district. According to the summonses, the superintendent could turn over the requested documents to an investigator at the district attorney’s office in lieu of appearing before the grand jury. The summonses contained the following warning: “BECAUSE THERE IS AN ONGOING CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION, YOU ARE NOT TO DISCLOSE THE EXISTENCE OF THIS SUMMONS NOR ANY MATERIAL REQUESTED PURSUANT TO THIS SUMMONS OTHER THAN UNDER THE DIRECTION OF A COURT OF COMETENT (sic) JURISIDICTION.” The superintendent named in the summonses was no longer employed by the school district. After consulting with the school district’s lawyers, an acting superintendent answered the request for documents without appearing before the grand jury. Thereafter, a dispute arose between the school district’s lawyers and the district attorney’s office about whether the school district’s lawyers could inform the school district’s board members about the summonses. In pleadings filed under seal, the school district’s lawyers asked the impaneling court for the grand jury to quash the nondisclosure language in the summonses. After several hearings, the trial court granted the motion, specifically finding that “any and all Grand Jury Summonses received by [the district] on December 6, 2006 and December 7, 2006, and the materials requested by them, are not confidential for any purpose.” Bexar County District Attorney Susan D. Reed challenged the trial court’s order, arguing that it violated a ministerial duty when it concluded the summonses were not secret. Reed sought a writ of mandamus or a writ of prohibition to compel the trial court to vacate its order quashing portions of three grand jury summonses. HOLDING:The court denied the petition for a writ of mandamus. Mandamus relief is available, the court stated, only when a relator can establish two things: 1. that under the relevant law and facts, he or she has a clear right to the relief sought, because the act he or she seeks to compel is “ministerial”; and 2. that no other adequate remedy at law is available. An act is ministerial, the court stated, “where the law clearly spells out the duty to be performed . . . with such certainty that nothing is left to the exercise of discretion or judgment.” Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 20.02(a) states: “The proceedings of the grand jury shall be secret.” Reed argued that Art. 20.02(a) mandates the secrecy of the grand jury summonses and that the trial court had no discretion to conclude otherwise. The school district, the court stated, countered that Art. 20.02(a) does not mention grand jury summonses, nor does it define the word “proceedings.” The district contended that because there is no clear and definitive law that renders the summonses secret, mandamus may not issue. The court found that summonses were not “proceedings” defined by the statute. Viewed in context, the court stated that the term “proceedings” as used in Art. 20.02(a) “could reasonably be understood as encompassing matters that take place before the grand jury, such as witness testimony and deliberations.” Thus, the court found that the trial court “was not required to conclude that the grand jury summonses here are”proceedings’ under Article 20.02(a).” Mandamus, the court stated, will not issue to vacate a trial court’s ruling on an unsettled or uncertain question of law, nor will it issue to compel an act that is to any degree discretionary or debatable. The court also found that the facts of the case did not support the issuance of mandamus relief. The record, the court stated, failed to show that measures were taken to ensure the confidentiality of the summonses. Truly confidential information, the court stated, warrants some precautions on the state’s part, such as directing the summonses to the proper individual or hand-delivering them. Under the law and the facts of this case, the court held that Reed failed to establish a clear right to mandamus relief. The court then examined Reed’s request for a writ of prohibition. Such writs, the court stated, may issue if a trial court exercises authority when it clearly has no authority to act. Reed, the court stated, argued that the trial court had no authority to rule on the motion to quash because no statute or rule permits such action. But the court disagreed. The court that impanels a grand jury, the court stated, has the authority to quash grand jury subpoenas, compel the testimony of grand jury witnesses and aid the grand jury in its investigation. OPINION:Speedlin, J.; Lopez, C.J., and Stone and Speedlin, J.J.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 1 article* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.