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University of Missouri must pay newspaper's legal costs

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    NMU         MISSOURI         Freedom of Information         Oct 30, 2002    

University of Missouri must pay newspaper’s legal costs

  • After ruling that the university violated the state’s open records law by withholding information requested by The Kansas City Star, a judge ordered the university to pay the newspaper’s attorney fees and legal expenses.

The University of Missouri must pay $77,806 in legal costs for The Kansas City Star, a judge ruled Oct. 25. The total amount includes $75,000 in attorney fees and $2,806 in expenses.

Boone County Circuit Judge Frank Conley ruled Sept. 27 that the University of Missouri violated the state’s Sunshine Law when it withheld more than 500 internal audits that The Star requested more than four years ago.

In the Oct. 25 ruling, Conley deemed the university’s violation to be purposeful and therefore ordered that the newspaper recover its legal costs from the University of Missouri.

The Star originally asked to be awarded an amount of $126,726; however, Conley calculated an amount of $77,806 instead. He did not explain why he assigned the lower amount.

According to The Star’s attorney Sam Colville, the lawsuit was lengthy because the University of Missouri engaged in delay tactics and “refused to comply with requests that would have allowed the process to be more expeditiously carried out.”

After a little more than four years since the initial request for records, Craig Nienaber, projects editor for The Star, described Conley’s ruling as “a long time coming.”

The win was more about the judge’s decision that we should get the records than the judge’s decision to make the university pay our expenses, Nienaber said. “This is an important case because it opens more than just records. It has a broad effect that makes it clear that the university is a public body and holds public records.”

Colville said he hopes other public agencies recognizes The Star’s win and understand that “refusing to comply with the Sunshine Law is not a reasonable option.”

“There are always consequences when refusing to comply,” he said.

The $77,806 in legal expenses is the largest known award made against a government agency under the Missouri Sunshine Law, according to Jean Maneke, an attorney for the Missouri Press Association.

University of Missouri representatives said they have not made a decision yet on whether they will appeal the judge’s ruling. They declined additional comment.

(The Kansas City Star Company v. Curators of the University of Missouri; Media counsel: Sam Colville, Holman, Hansen, Colville and Coates, PC, Kansas City) LF

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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