Court: Missouri Corrections Department ‘Knowingly Violated’ Sunshine Law

Nov 22, 2016

The Missouri Department of Corrections knowingly violated the state’s Sunshine Law when it refused to provide records about applicants who sought to witness Missouri executions, an appeals court ruled today.

The ACLU had sued to obtain the information to determine if the department was choosing witnesses impartially.

In response, the corrections department produced heavily redacted records, even though many witness applicants had agreed to produce the information.

The trial judge, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon E. Beetem, found the department committed a “knowing violation of the Sunshine Law” and ordered it to pay the ACLU’s costs and attorneys’ fees of $5,645.

On appeal, the corrections department argued that Beetem had wrongly applied the law and there was no substantial evidence to support his judgment. The Missouri Court of Appeals, in a decision written by Chief Judge Mark D. Pfeiffer, rejected both arguments.

A spokesman for the Department of Corrections said it does not comment on matters in litigation.

Tony Rothert, legal director of the Missouri ACLU, said in a statement, “As the state auditor’s recent look at sunshine law compliance found, it is not uncommon for government agencies to ignore the law. Transparency is essential to the people being able to trust how their government functions.”

Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.