By Landon Bernskoetter/March 21, 2019
JEFFERSON CITY – Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce’s October 2017 decision that former Cole County prosecutor Mark Richardson “knowingly and purposefully violated the Sunshine Law” was upheld recently by the Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City. Joyce ordered Richardson to pay a total of $36,170 to Aaron Malin, the plaintiff in the 2015 lawsuit.
Malin, a researcher for Show-Me Cannabis, was denied open-record information by the Cole County prosecutor’s office. Richardson was defeated during the last year’s August primary.
The violation of the Sunshine Law was a point of contention in the most recent round of prosecuting attorney elections. Locke Thompson succeeded Richardson as prosecutor on Jan. 1, 2019. In a statement to the Jefferson City News Tribune, he said “I obviously made a point during the election that I thought Mark violated the Sunshine Law in this case, and the Western District made it clear with their ruling.”
When asked his perspective, Malin told the News Tribune “It’s really important that government agencies are held accountable, especially law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices. If they don’t comply with the Sunshine Law, they should be taken to court. Hopefully this is a deterrent so other agencies will be warned and see that this law will be enforced.”
Malin’s case is based on a time period when Malin made Sunshine Law requests to Richardson’s office. The appeals court found that “On each occasion, (Richardson) responded with general objections to the records requests, sometimes untimely, and indicated that the request was too burdensome and the task of searching for any responsive documents simply would not be performed; further, (Richardson) stated his conclusions without confirming or denying the existence of the records you requested.”
Failure to comply resulted in Richardson receiving a $12,100 fine and paying Malin’s attorney fees.