Missouri’s Corrections department violated the state’s “Sunshine” law when it failed to provide information to some of the people who asked to witness a state execution, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled on New Year’s Eve.
The ACLU of Missouri, which filed the lawsuit in September 2014, issued a news release last week announcing Beetem’s decision.
“The Missouri Department of Corrections continues to knowingly violate the law in order to prevent the public from seeing how it carries out executions,” Tony Rothert, the ACLU’s legal director, explained in the news release. “Every Missourian should be concerned that the Department is taking lives in their name, without transparency or oversight.”
Beetem ruled the department “committed a knowing violation of the Sunshine Law (and is) ordered to pay a civil monetary penalty of $500, as well as the reasonable attorney fees and costs Plaintiffs incurred in prosecuting their prevailing claims.”
The ACLU has challenged the Corrections department several times on how it prepares for and conducts executions.
This time, it said in its six-page lawsuit, it wanted to “better understand how the (department) Director,” George Lombardi, “exercises his discretion to pick execution witnesses,” so it “requested public records” from the department.
Missouri’s Open Meetings/Open Records, or “Sunshine,” law requires governmental agencies to provide requested information “unless otherwise provided by law.”
In May 2014, the ACLU asked for “any and all records” in the department’s possession “regarding witnesses to executions,” including:
• Those the department invited to be a witness during the previous year, and their responses.
• Members of the public or news media who asked to be witnesses, and the department’s consideration of, and responses to, those requests.
• Information about those who actually witnessed executions.
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This story was originally published Monday, January 11, 2016, on the Jefferson City News Tribune’s website. A link to the original newstribune.com post can be found here.