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Cole County prosecutor to appeal open records lawsuit ruling

Mark Richardson, the Cole County prosecuting attorney, will appeal a judge’s decision he pay thousands of dollars due to open records law violations.

Richardson’s office filed the notice of appeal on Friday, claiming Judge Patricia Joyce failed to consider at least two points in her decision to fine him.

Joyce ruled in October that Richardson “knowingly and purposely” violated the state’s Sunshine Law in regards to several requests made by Aaron Malin. The judgment said that Richardson decided not to even search for records Malin sought, which included communications between his office and the MUSTANG Drug Task Force and certain indictments related to drug crimes.

The six violations Joyce counted amounted to six different awards of $2,000 for Malin and a $100 fine for his delayed response to Malin.

Dave Roland, the attorney working on Malin’s case, said he was looking forward to taking the case to the appellate level. If the decision holds up, it would create stronger case law for other people trying to get public records.

“By taking this up on appeal, it means that we expect to have precedent all across the state of Missouri for citizens who are trying to obtain open public records like my client was searching for in this case,” Roland told ABC 17 News.

Todd Smith, handling the case for Richardson’s office, did not return a message left late Friday afternoon.

Malin has won several lawsuits in the last few years aimed at the state’s drug task forces and its members, but never has a judge fined them for violations. One case found that members of the East Central Missouri Drug Task Force violated the law, but did not do so knowingly or purposefully. Joyce ruled in a different case involving Malin and MUSTANG that the members were a public governmental group subject to open records law, but did not believe its denial to give Malin records was in violation of state law. Roland and Malin are appealing the decision in that case.

The decision in the Richardson case, Roland said, may be the laregest civil penalty ever leveled in a state open records case.

Smith wrote in his notice of appeal that Joyce didn’t weigh the balance “of the potential benefits of releasing the records versus the detriment to law enforcement.” Roland said that point will be difficult for a court to decide since Richardson’s office did a limited search for the records at hand.

“We don’t even know what’s being withheld,” Roland said. “And it’s difficult for a court to make any ruling whether those records should be open or closed when we just don’t even know what they are.”

The notice of appeal comes two weeks after Roland and other attorneys that worked on the case asked the court for attorneys fees. The four attorneys were seeking $24,070, according to a memo filed in court, which Richardson’s office would have had to pay.

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