Kansas City, Mo. – Today, the Missouri Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a trial court ruling that the former Cole County prosecuting attorney, Mark Richardson, committed seven purposeful violations of the Sunshine Law.
The appellate court also upheld the trial court’s decision to award the state’s largest transparency-related civil penalty ever as a consequence for those violations.
Richardson lost his bid for re-election for Cole County Prosecuting Attorney in 2018.
"Today's decision is a welcome reminder that public officials will face consequences if they attempt to declare their offices exempt from transparency,” said Dave Roland, director of litigation at the Freedom Center of Missouri.
The suit stems from three Sunshine Law requests Aaron Malin filed in April and October 2015. Malin sought public records of communication between Richardson’s office and a multi-jurisdictional drug task force, copies of certain indictments, and copies of Sunshine Law requests and the office’s responses to those requests. Richardson denied all three requests, refusing even to search for the requested documents and claiming that every record in his office would be exempt from public review.
Following Richardson’s refusal, Roland sent him a letter explaining not only that Richardson was violating the Sunshine Law, but warning that Malin would sue if Richardson did not comply. When Richardson still declined to search for the requested records, the Freedom Center of Missouri and the ACLU of Missouri filed a lawsuit on Malin’s behalf.
“We are pleased the court affirmed the government’s responsibility to the people it serves when it comes to open records laws,” said Tony Rothert, legal director, ACLU of Missouri. “When the Sunshine Law is respected and protected, it helps establish trust between the government and the community.”
Additional information about the Freedom Center’s mission, cases, and activities can be found online at www.mofreedom.org.
About the ACLU of Missouri: The ACLU of Missouri preserves and expands the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians as guaranteed in the Missouri and U.S. Constitutions, with a focus on the Bill of Rights, the first ten Amendments.