Press "Enter" to skip to content

Court of Appeals reverses ruling, says Sunshine Law was not violated in execution drug case

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Department of Corrections does not have to reveal the names of the pharmacists who supply Missouri’s lethal injection drugs, according to a ruling issued by the Missouri Court of Appeals Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District reversed a 2015 decision from a lower court judge, which had ordered Missouri’s corrections officials to disclose the identities.

The decision stems from three separate suits, filed by three groups in 2014, seeking access to records about the drugs

The first group is comprised of Guardian News and Media, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Associated Press, the Kansas City Star, and The Springfield News-Leader. That suit was combined with the appeal with suits by former state lawmaker Joan Bray and the ACLU of Missouri, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and former St. Louis Public Radio reporter, Chris McDaniel, who now operates as the death penalty reporter at BuzzFeed News.

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem had ruled that the DOC had violated the Sunshine Law, Missouri’s public records law, by not identifying the pharmacists, and found that the DOC had failed to respond in time to requests by media organizations for records about the drugs used for executions.

In his decision, Beetem found that the court could impose civil penalties on a governmental body that knowingly failed to provide access to requested public records, and as such, could be ordered to pay all legal costs of the other party.

But Tuesday’s ruling from the appellate court ruling reversed that, saying the DOC is not required to reveal those identities, and furthermore does not have to pay the legal costs because it did not violate the Sunshine Law.

“There is nothing within the language of the statute that suggests that the legislature intended for pharmacists to be excluded from the protections provided by the statute, or intended for courts to second-guess the wisdom of the DOC, unless it is apparent that the DOC abused the discretion granted by the legislature,” the three-judge appeals court panel found.

While the ruling reverses the decision of Beetem, many expect that the suit will be taken further up the ladder, to Missouri’s Supreme Court.

If that’s the case, then there are two ways they could do so:

1. The plaintiffs could ask the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District to transfer the case to the Supreme Court, a move that would be unusual, as it is typically denied by the court.

2. The second option is to file an application with the Supreme Court, asking for the case to be taken up.

Either way, if the case is to be sent to the Supreme Court, it will most likely be months, if not years, before the case could be heard. And that, of course, is presuming that the Supreme Court even decides to take on the case.