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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is going to court to block a Sunshine Law request seeking information that would show how often his office has invoked a specific state law to deny other requests for records.
Attorneys for Parson filed a motion on Wednesday for a protective order in the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District as part of a lawsuit originally centered on former Gov. Eric Greitens’ use of the message-destroying app Confide. The case has morphed into a battle over the extent of the Sunshine law.
Parson wants the court to ensure his office doesn’t have to fulfill a records request made by Mark Pedroli, an attorney representing Ben Sansone, an open government advocate who launched the Confide case.
“It is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” Pedroli said.
Last week, Pedroli filed a Sunshine request for emails sent and received by the governor’s office since 2017 with the keyword “407.1500” — a reference to a Missouri law the office has previously cited to deny requests for cell phone numbers used by the governor.
The law, which isn’t about records disclosure, allows the attorney general to sue businesses and organizations when they fail to provide notice of a breach of personal information. A circuit court judge has previously said the decision to cite the law to deny records represented a “novel approach” and suggested the argument is a stretch.
The governor’s office responded, Pedroli said, by denying his request. The motion for a protective order goes further, asking the court to order Sansone to not contact the governor’s office except through the governor’s attorneys, which would effectively limit how a constituent can interact with his office.
The motion potentially raises questions about whether individuals and their attorneys who are suing the government can have access to public records restricted by the court during litigation.
“I don’t think when you litigate you lose civil rights or access rights,” Pedroli said.
A Parson spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the motion, Parson’s attorneys say Sansone already asked for the records sought by Pedroli during discovery when the lawsuit was in the trial court phase.
“The Sunshine Law request … attempts to circumvent the Trial Court’s discovery order and appeal pending before this Court,” the motion says.
In 2019, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem ruled that the use of Confide by Greitens, who is now running for U.S. Senate, and his staff didn’t violate the Sunshine Law, delivering a blow to transparency advocates. Then, in December 2020, Beetem found the governor’s office had illegally redacted information — but reversed himself weeks later. Sansone appealed in April.
The Star’s Jeanne Kuang contributed reporting