A Travis County District Court has issued a temporary injunction pending trial against State Rep. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana) preventing him from obstructing citizens wishing to film meetings of the House State Affairs Committee he chairs.

Earlier this month Amy Hedtke sued Cook for violation of her civil rights. In March, Hedtke, an activist from Tarrant County, was forcibly removed from a House State Affairs Committee meeting and arrested at Cook’s direction because she was filming the hearing via Facebook Live.

Hedtke asserted that the Texas Open Meetings Act guaranteed her right to film the meeting.

Now a district court has agreed and has issued an injunction against Cook pending a trial on the merits of the case in October.

Section 551.023 of the Open Meetings Act allows a person in attendance at a meeting of a governmental body to record all or part of the meeting. The act specifically applies to committees of the legislature.

Despite the Open Meetings Act, Cook and his attorneys have argued that they are above the law and are not required to follow it. The court disagreed with those arguments.

Cook is now specifically prevented from preventing Hedtke from filming meetings of the State Affairs Committee during the special session and would be in contempt of court if he disobeys the injunction. It is unknown whether Cook will attempt to enforce his ban on filming against other citizens who are not plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Byron Cook has a long history of abusing the power of his office in order to violate the First Amendment rights of Texas citizens. Last session he hijacked Governor Abbott’s ethics reform package and warped it into a ban on filming legislators in the Texas Capitol.

Under Cook’s unconstitutional proposal, he would have had the right to sue citizens like Hedtke who film him in order to obtain a $10,000 penalty and his attorney’s fees. That proposal passed the House, receiving the support of a majority of House Democrats and a minority of House Republicans before it died in conference.

Cook is being challenged in the Republican primary election by Corsicana businessman Thomas McNutt, who nearly ousted him in the 2016 election.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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