Little Miss Sunscreen

The SE Texas Record Oct. 9, 2010, 8:35am

"Let the Sunshine In," from the rock musical Hair, became a top-10 hit in the 1960s. Sunshine laws became popular about the same time, requiring federal, state and local governments to conduct their business in the open and to make their records available to the public.

The underlying idea was that public servants are just that – servants of the public – and that government belongs to the people and should have no secrets from it.

It's a good idea that serves to protect us from mischief-makers who prefer to operate under cover of darkness.

There are reasonable exceptions to the policy such as those established to protect the interests of national security, the proprietary rights of corporations and the privacy of individuals. Mischief-makers invariably cite these concerns when they fear the effects of sunshine on their activities. It is our job to be skeptical of such claims.

Galveston County Judge Susan Criss is no "Little Miss Sunshine." In fact, she seems to have a pathological fear of public record sunshine, routinely applying her brand of SPF 50 cream to keep herself from being burned by overexposure. It's called a Restraining Order.

Just last week, Judge Criss issued a temporary restraining order to conceal the presumably massive windfall for plaintiffs attorneys in a $189 million settlement of Ike-related claims with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA).

Did the courtroom practitioners of jackpot justice get their customary third, or were the pickings even larger? We don't know. And we may never know if the judge's temporary order is allowed to be made permanent.

Criss didn't bother to explain what the extenuating circumstances are that warrant this public record cover-up. After all, TWIA is a quasi-public agency whose warts and all should be subject to public scrutiny.

But then, Criss has often shown favor to the trial bar, whose members donated so generously to her 2008 campaign for the state Supreme Court.

Public pressure needs to be brought to make sure she lets the sunshine in.

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