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Gross defends request to depose Hawley in open records lawsuit

St. Louis attorney Elad Gross wants U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, the former state attorney general, to answer questions about an alleged scheme by state officals to circumvent open records laws before the November election, and he made his argument to a judge Friday.

Gross sued the Missouri governor’s office in October after he was told that a sunshine request for emails and other documents from the office would cost him about $3,600. He requested Gov. Mike Parson’s office produce roughly 13,000 documents.

Although Hawley is not a respondent in the lawsuit, Gross said he played an integral part of the alleged wrongdoing.

Gross requested a subpoena for Hawley and former Gov. Eric Greitens. Shortly after, Hawley’s attorney filed a motion to quash the subpoena. Gross said Friday that the court has been unable to locate Greitens after three weeks of searching.

“The lawsuit alleges that the governor’s office is not giving up these documents for a reason,” Gross said after the hearing at Cole County Circuit Court. “I have to find witnesses… who have seen them themselves.”

“He’s not entitled under the sunshine law to depose sitting United States senators,” said Brian Barnes, one of the members of Hawley’s legal team.

Barnes told Judge Patricia Joyce that Gross does not have enough evidence to warrant a deposition and that granting his request would set a bad precedent. “You’re going to see a lot more sunshine law lawsuits” if Joyce allows Gross to depose Hawley, Barnes said.

Barnes also noted during the hearing that Hawley is very busy as a senator. “It’s a waste of his time,” Barnes said.

“I’m happy to accommodate Sen. Hawley’s schedule,” Gross said. “I need to know who these other people are.”

Barnes repeatedly said that Hawley had nothing to do with the handling of Gross’ sunshine request, which he called “vastly overbroad.” He also said the lawsuit was about the retrieval of the documents, not their contents.

There is no timeline on Joyce’s ruling.

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