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Judge to decide if Hawley must produce records

Judge to decide if Hawley must produce records

October 13th, 2018 by Bob Watson in Local News

The Democratic Senatorial Search Committee (DSCC) says Attorney General Josh Hawley and his office haven’t complied with its requests for information under Missouri’s Sunshine Law.

But the attorney general’s office wants Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem to dismiss the DSCC’s lawsuit.

Beetem heard oral arguments from both sides for nearly an hour Friday afternoon, then gave the attorneys up to 10 days to file their post-hearing written arguments and proposed orders.

The DSCC filed its lawsuit July 28, after asking Hawley’s office since October 2017 to disclose “documents related to several matters of public concern.”

The lawsuit highlighted three of those:

• “All communications related to the residence of the chief legal officer of the state (Hawley).”

• Information related to “Hawley’s supposed creation of a Public Corruption Team.”

• Internal office communications about previous Sunshine Law requests made by the DSCC and by the Missouri Democratic Party.

The lawsuit said the attorney general’s office violated the Sunshine Law when it denied those requests.

But D. John Sauer, Hawley’s deputy solicitor, told Beetem on Friday the attorney general’s office provided what information it could — and much of what the national Democrat committee wanted couldn’t be released, under the law.

Sauer said the DSCC’s requests were “of an inherently speculative nature — they must have facts, and they don’t have them — (so) the court should dismiss” the case.

In his written motion to dismiss, filed Sept. 7, Sauer added: “Since early 2017, the Attorney General’s Office has produced hundreds of records to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in response to dozens of discrete Sunshine Law requests.”

He said the DSCC was claiming the AG’s office violated the Sunshine Law based on its “picking three requests to which all responsive public records were closed,” but that the national political committee had “not actually alleged that any open records responsive to those three requests actually exist … and it cannot do so in good faith.”

Uzoma Nkwonta, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney representing the DSCC at Friday’s hearing, told Beetem: “The purpose of the Sunshine Law is to make sure there is a clear presumption of disclosure. But here, at every turn, the attorney general’s office has attempted to” prevent the national committee from getting the information it wants, because of “advanced, new (and) unprecedented restrictions.”

He said there’s “no dispute the attorney general’s office has withheld documents.”

But Sauer disputed that, saying some of the information the DSCC wants was closed because it involved attorney-client privileges, and some of the information involved ongoing investigations.

“It’s widely known our office investigated former Gov. (Eric) Greitens,” Sauer told Beetem. “Under their theory, Greitens could have served a Sunshine request and gotten information on the pending investigation.”