AUSTIN – First Amendment attorney Joel White, a former president of the Freedom Information Foundation of Texas and longtime champion of open government, died July 21 in Cartagena, Colombia, after becoming ill while on a trip.
In his law practice in Austin, White represented news media clients in many types of cases including court access, open records, subpoenas and libel. He also represented clients in finance, energy, construction and manufacturing. He was board certified in civil appellate law and was named one of the best lawyers in America in both First Amendment and business litigation by Best Lawyers in America and U.S. News and World Report. He was named a “Texas Super Lawyer” by Texas Monthly.
White was a 1987 honors graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, where he served on the Texas Law Review. He practiced in all Texas state and federal courts and was a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar.
White was a board member and past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, where he played a key role overseeing the non-profit’s structure and funding. He was a guiding hand of the FOI Foundation for nearly two decades. For many years he volunteered as an FOI Hotline attorney for the organization, answering questions from journalists and interested citizens about the Texas Public Information Act, Texas Open Meetings Act and other freedom of information issues.
White was involved in important open government and press freedom legal cases in Texas. He frequently appeared in court for newspaper and broadcast clients, including the Houston Chronicle and KHOU-TV. In 1995, he fought to protect the right of journalists and other members of the public to attend jury selection in criminal trials. In the late 1990s, he handled a series of cases for the Chronicle that firmly established the right of public access to search warrant affidavits. In 2005, he was a key member of a team of lawyers that won a notable decision by the Texas Supreme Court protecting the right of investigative journalists to expose questionable conduct of elected public officials.
White conducted open government training for the FOI Foundation in cooperation with the Texas Attorney General’s Office. He repeatedly took on pro bono assignments for the foundation to author friend-of-the-court briefs in cases involving the Texas Public Information Act and Texas Open Meetings Act.
He was survived by his wife A. Melinda Rainey, MD, two sons and other relatives and friends.
A memorial service was held on Sunday, Sept. 16, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Camp Lucy in Dripping Springs, Texas. The family asks that memorials be charitable donations to the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas or the National Freedom of Information Coalition.