ST. LOUIS — The Missouri Court of Appeals in St. Louis on Tuesday upheld a judge’s ruling against the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office for failing to respond to a lawsuit alleging lawsuit violations. the open state archives.
The appeals court’s unanimous decision said Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner’s appeals had “no merit.” She had challenged St. Louis Circuit Judge Christopher McGraugh’s decision and a $5,000 fine for refusing to produce records and respond in time to a January 2020 lawsuit filed by conservative journalist John Solomon.
“Based on this entire record, we find that the trial court did not err in finding that (Gardner’s) failure to file a timely response to (Solomon’s) amended motion n It was not the result of any unexpected or unavoidable obstacle, accident or accident, but rather was the result of (Gardner’s) negligence, inattention and willful disregard, the court heard.
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Gardner’s office tweeted on Tuesday, “We are disappointed with the Court’s decision and intend to investigate and assert the Bureau’s right to have the decision reviewed.”
Solomon, a former Fox News contributor who runs the Just the News website, tracked down all of Gardner’s contacts with staff and other key players in the 2018 criminal investigations into the then-government. Eric Greitens.
Those people include Missouri Times publisher Scott Faughn, Clayton attorney Albert Watkins, billionaire mega-donor George Soros, and former state officials Stacey Newman and Jay Barnes.
“Government transparency is crucial to an autonomous society,” said Solomon’s attorney, Dave Roland, of the Missouri Freedom Center. “So in this particular situation, Kim Gardner is the most senior law enforcement official in the city of St. Louis, and citizens absolutely had to be able to know what his office was doing and why he was making some of the decisions that he was making. he was taking. “
“It was shocking and offensive that she wasn’t going to deliver anything,” Roland said.
The appeals court ordered Gardner’s office to provide a list of conforming documents, produce them in court, and pay Solomon’s attorney fees. Solomon’s attorney filed a claim for approximately $22,000 in legal fees and expenses. Roland estimated an additional $25,000 in legal costs to defend Gardner’s appeal.
“And sadly, the taxpayers are going to foot the bill for his violations of law,” Roland said.
In 2020, McGraugh blamed Gardner’s office for a “reckless, dilatory, and intentional refusal to timely file a responsive plea” after giving the office an additional 30 days to do so. McGraugh also fined Gardner’s office $5,000 for breaking the law and ordered the office to pay Solomon’s attorney fees.
During oral argument on September 14, David Luce, an attorney for the circuit attorney’s office, apologized to the appeals court, Solomon and his attorney for “the errors that were made in the handling of this case. “. Luce blamed an assistant district attorney’s mistakes for failing to respond in time to the trial in the spring of 2020 and the life-altering working conditions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID was already upon us that week when (the prosecutor) was preparing his response,” Luce said.
Luce also claimed that all of the records Solomon sought would have been closed records because the criminal charges against Greitens had been dropped.
Roland disputed the claim that the requested records had been closed, arguing in September that Gardner’s office had “misinterpreted” his client’s extensive request for communication between Gardner and others. He said Solomon only filed a lawsuit after the circuit attorney’s office failed to respond for months and Gardner’s office then intentionally ignored a court order to respond to the lawsuit. .
“When it became apparent over the course of several months that they were delaying at every possible opportunity, we felt we had to step up and claim the default,” he said.
He also reminded the appeals court that McGraugh felt the assistant district attorney’s explanation for not responding was not credible.
“If the circuit attorney had simply filed a timely response, we could have fought in court and we are confident that we would have been able to show that their apology was just that – an apology,” said Roland.
Solomon’s lawsuit is one of three lawsuits against Gardner’s office alleging violations of the Sunshine Act.
In April 2019, a judge ordered Gardner’s office to release to the Post-Dispatch records of his office’s contracts with various vendors stemming from a lawsuit filed by the newspaper in 2019.
The office provided redacted versions of contracts with several consultants, law firms and therapists for diversion programs and an office surveillance system worth nearly $200,000. The Post-Dispatch reported in September that Gardner’s office spent less on staff attorneys and more on contract consultants.
In June 2020, St. Louis attorney Joe Jacobson sued Gardner’s office, alleging that his office had failed to provide records of case statistics, layoff data, total headcount and employee numbers. ‘other documents. The trial is ongoing.
The Sunshine Law, Missouri’s public records law, requires governments to respond to requests for access to public records within three days. The law requires that its exemptions from disclosing public records be “strictly construed” to promote a policy of openness.