The Missouri Western District Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling by former Cole County Presiding Judge Pat Joyce in a 2015 open records case.
Aaron Malin had appealed a ruling by Joyce denying his motion for civil contempt, which requested the Cole County Prosecutor's Office be found in contempt for failing to comply with an earlier judgment that required the prosecutor to search for and produce records requested by Malin.
The ruling came after a bench trial in October 2019 where attorney Dave Roland, of the Freedom Center of Missouri in Mexico, represented Malin in the case, suggested Joyce should hold the prosecuting attorney's office in contempt — and fine it $50 a day, retroactively to Jan. 15, 2019.
Rowland said testimony at the trial showed the prosecutor had not searched all of the computers in his office nor had he searched the server used by the prosecutor's office.
The case dates back to April 2015 when Malin asked for a number of public records from then-Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson, including communications between Richardson's office and the Mustang Drug Task Force.
On Oct. 22, 2015, Malin asked for any Cole County indictments issued between July 1, 2014, and Oct. 22, 2015.
A third request, made Oct. 30, 2015, asked for "any Sunshine Law (or open records) requests received by the Cole County Prosecutor's Office, as well as any responses provided, between January 1, 2015, and the present."
In January 2018, the Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City upheld Joyce's October 2017 ruling Malin was entitled to those documents, and Richardson had knowingly and purposefully violated the state's Sunshine Law.
Joyce ordered Richardson to search for and produce all open records responsive to Malin's requests and to pay Malin a civil penalty of $12,100 — plus $24,070 in attorney's fees.
However, Richardson appealed Joyce's ruling, so those costs climbed to $51,166.55 after Malin had additional attorney's fees because of the appeal case.
On Jan. 15, 2019, the Court of Appeals affirmed Joyce's ruling and mandated the case back to Joyce's court Feb. 9, 2019, so she could "determine the reasonableness of Malin's attorney fees on (the) appeal and enter an appropriate award."
Joyce noted in her January 2020 judgment that on March 14, 2019, Thompson, who took office Jan. 1, 2019, paid in full the court's money judgment in Malin's favor, plus interest and attorney's fees on appeal.
Joyce also noted Thompson had searched for and produced "a number of records to Malin, all at no charge to Malin." It was before Thompson could produce the last of these records the motion for civil contempt was filed, and on June 28, 2019, Thompson's counsel, attorney Michael Berry, produced the remaining records Thompson was able to locate.
Joyce's judgment stated "a more exhaustive search of the county's information systems was beyond the ability of the county to undertake," and Thompson offered to get a quote for an outside technology service to do the search for the records Malin wanted, but Malin declined Thompson's offer as it would have required Malin to pay for the search.