JEFFERSON CITY – The Show-Me Institute has filed a suit against the Missouri Office of Administration (MOA) over allegations it violated the state's open records laws.
The think tank alleges it requested information in June under the state's Sunshine Law regarding information previously given to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) but that 90 percent of the information the MOA gave it was redacted.
Dave Roland, director of litigation at the Freedom Center of Missouri who is working with the Show-Me Institute in the suit, says the MOA's refusal to provide the Show-Me Institute with the same information as the AFSCME is a "blatant violation" of Missouri's Sunshine Law.
"I think it's very straight-forward," Roland said. "I made the decision in discussion with my client that we were not going to seek a finding that the violation was 'purposeful,' just because the courts have been so strict in what constitutes a purposeful violation that I thought it was virtually impossible to reach that standard. So, we are seeking a finding that the violation was 'knowing.' That is, at least in theory, a lower standard that the Sunshine Law leaves out."
Roland said that over the past decade, very few courts have made a distinction between the two standards. The Sunshine Law, however, does.
"We're hopeful that the courts would clarify that distinction between knowing and purposeful, and they'll acknowledge that when the law is as clear as it is, you cannot avoid all consequences just by saying 'I disagree with your interpretation of the law,'" Roland said. "We think that this is a pretty blatant rejection of the plain language of the Sunshine Law."
The Show-Me Institute is a nonprofit that focuses on free market principles, economic and good government issues and individual liberty throughout Missouri. It was established in 2005 and is based in St. Louis.
"The reason that Show-Me Institute filed the case is to vindicate a principle. That is, the government doesn't get to pick and choose who gets access to public information," Roland said. "The fact that they chose to provide the information to one private entity - they've got to provide it to everybody. The government is trying to be selective about who gets access to public information, and that's not right."
Roland says the MOA "dared us to sue," after ignoring its warning letter imploring the state to "straighten up and fly right."
"I'm aware that the courts are extremely hesitant to make such a finding," Roland said. "I'm hoping that maybe by only seeking the finding of a knowing violation, the court will be less hesitant to actually impose the penalty the Sunshine Law prescribes."
Division II Judge Daniel R. Green will hear the case in Cole County Circuit Court. No hearings have been scheduled, but Roland believes the case will be resolved on cross motions for a summary judgment within nine-to-10 months.