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Department of Corrections loses court fight over Sunshine law

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The ACLU of Missouri and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) has won two reaffirmations in separate court cases over whether or not the Missouri Department of Corrections (MODOC) violated provisions of the Sunshine Law.

In 2014, the RCFP and St. Louis Public Radio Reporter Chris McDaniel filed a lawsuit alleging that MODOC had withheld public information regarding the death penalty, including the pharmacy that serves as a supplier for drugs used in lethal injection executions. The ACLU alleged that MODOC had refused to release certain documents regarding the state’s execution witness selection protocol, specifically that MODOC was not selecting witnesses in a proper and impartial manner.

According to the judgment by the Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem, MODOC “committed a knowing violation of the Sunshine law” in both cases.

MODOC had claimed in the latter case that there were exemptions to the Sunshine law that allowed them to keep some information secret. The department argued these redactions were justified by a “right to privacy” and “institutional security.”

Beetem disagreed.

“There is no statute which establishes a ‘right to privacy’ with respect to these records,” the judgment states. “The case law relied upon by Corrections simply does not apply to the instant cause but it never reached the question.”

As for institutional security, Beetem wrote in his decision that “No evidence was adduced that institutional security would be impacted by the release of non-employee personnel information.”

The state has come under scrutiny for its fight to keep information of its supplier of pentobarbital, the drug most commonly used in lethal injection executions, due to diminishing quantities in the rest of the country as pharmacists around the globe hesitate to even manufacture the drug. McDaniel even reported in January when writing for Buzzfeed that MODOC was using cash to pay those performing the injection process and drug suppliers in order to minimize a paper trail.

The state is expected to appeal Beetem’s ruling.