ST. LOUIS (AP) — A Missouri appeals court has sent back to a lower court a lawsuit over fees charged by the administration of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, for an open records request.
Elad Gross, a St. Louisan, lawyer and Democratic candidate for Missouri Attorney General, sued in 2018 after Parson’s administration sent him a $3,618 bill to process an open records request related to then-Gov. Eric Greitens.
Gross explained in a statement via Twitter: “I asked for records from the Governor regarding corruption in our government, specifically communications between the Governor’s Office and multiple people involved in a dark money corruption scheme using a fake charity to buy our state. There were many records available, but the Governor refused to release the records to me unless I paid over $3,600 and waited about half a year.”
Parson’s office based the bill on an estimated 90 hours of staff processing time at $40 per hour.
Cole County Judge Patricia Joyce dismissed the lawsuit in July, ruling that charging the research fees does not violate the state’s Sunshine Law.
Gross raised 10 points in his appeal, and the Missouri Western District court of appeals sided with him in five of them. On one point, the court ruled that Joyce erred in dismissing Gross’s claim that the governor’s office incorrectly charged attorneys’ research fees as a requirement to access public records.
Gross responded to the appellate court’s decision by saying, “I beat the Governor and Attorney General in court to protect Missouri’s Sunshine Law.”
The Missouri Press Association, the Freedom Center of Missouri, the ACLU of Missouri, and the Sunshine and Government Accountability Project contended in briefs filed in support of Gross that government’s charging attorneys fees for records increases the cost of records requests by thousands of dollars and isn’t authorized under the Sunshine Law.