JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Governor Eric Greitens’ use of the mobile application known as Confide has officially landed him in legal hot waters.
A lawsuit seeking an injunction and damages over the Republican governor and his staff’s use of the encrypted messaging app was filed in the Cole County Circuit Court for The Sunshine Project following a report by the Kansas City Star exposing the administration’s use of the app in December.
It also calls for the defendants to give “an immediate accounting within three days” of all the government employees who were have used or were using the app.
The app automatically destroys text messages after they have been read, leaving no trace. The Star’s report stated that no government-issued phones had been listed as using the app, but several personal numbers for the staff had been connected through the app.
The lawsuit contends that the Governor and his staff “conspired to violate” both the state’s Missouri State and Local Records law and the beloved Sunshine Law, which states that “all records made or received by or under the authority of or coming into the custody, control or possession of state or local officials in the course of their public duties are the property of the state or local government and shall not be mutilated, destroyed, transferred, removed or otherwise damaged or disposed of, in whole or in part, except as provided by law.”
The lawsuit lists both the Governor in his official capacity, Custodian of Records Michelle Hallford, as well as 20 “John Does” from the Governor’s staff, as defendants in the case.
Since then, the news has brought about an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, after the current attorney general, Josh Hawley, determined that his office could handle the investigation without conflicting with their duties to represent the Governor’s Office in other matters.
The lawsuit states that both Hawley and the plaintiff, attorney Ben Sansone, submitted Sunshine requests for documents related to the alleged use of the app on December 20, to which Sarah Madden, special counsel for the Governor, responded, saying that she would “be able to provide a response or a time and a cost estimate (if applicable) for records you have requested in no more than twenty business days. We will contact you at that time.”
However, Missouri Revised Stat 610.023(3) says “If access to the public record is not granted immediately, the custodian shall give a detailed explanation of the cause for further delay and the place and earliest time and date that the record will be available for inspection,” and the response from special counsel did not give an explanation.
“In fact,” the lawsuit reads,” by responding that she “would be able to provide a response” a full month later, she is suggesting, quite accurately, that her first response was really not a response at all, and certainly not a legally sufficient Sunshine response.”
The case has been assigned to Judge Patricia Joyce, but no hearings or proceedings have been scheduled at this time.
You can read the full lawsuit filing below:
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.