More than eight years ago the Cole County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office refused even to search for certain public records that Aaron Malin had requested. In 2019 the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling that this refusal was a purposeful violation of the Sunshine Law and that the Office was required to search for and produce all records responsive to Malin’s request. But nearly four years later the Office acknowledged that it still had not searched 6,000-8,000 cases’ worth of records, arguing that it was only required to do so if Malin paid for them to comply with the Court’s order. Today the Court of Appeals once again held that the Office must search for and produce the records—and that because in the early stages of the case the Office did not demand payment for conducting the search, Malin is not now obliged to pay for them to comply with the Sunshine Law.Appellate-Opinion-ROUND-THREE-VICTORY
“The most important takeaway from today’s opinion is that prosecuting attorneys do not have a get-out-of-transparency free card,” said Dave Roland, director of litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri. “The second big takeaway is that if a government entity wants to charge for locating and producing public records, they have to make that request up-front rather than waiting until after a citizen has won a case against them.”
The Court has instructed the trial court to ensure that the Office searches all of its “paper files, microfilm, and electronic records that have not yet been searched for responsive records, including, but not limited to, probable cause statements and police reports.”
“For more than eight years the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has made every possible effort to avoid complying with its obligations,” said Aaron Malin. “I’m thrilled that the Court of Appeals has once again emphasized that prosecuting attorneys must be transparent and accountable to the people.” Founded in November 2010, the Freedom Center of Missouri is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to research, litigation, and education in defense of individual liberty and transparent, accountable, constitutionally limited government. The Freedom Center is one of Missouri’s leading legal advocates for government transparency; this is a continuation of one of the Freedom Center’s very first Sunshine Law cases.