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'Careless inattention and deliberate disregard': Missouri court slams St. Louis circuit attorney for handling of open records lawsuit

A former Fox News contributor is seeking records related to investigation of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.

ST. LOUIS — A former Fox News contributor who sued St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner for records related to the former Gov. Eric Greitens investigation has landed a legal victory that could cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees.

In January 2020, John Solomon asked for records showing any and all contacts between Gardner, her staff and several key players, including billionaire George Soros, related to the investigation into Greitens’ alleged invasion of privacy case involving an explicit photo he took of his mistress without her permission.

Solomon never got the records he was seeking or a response from Gardner’s office, so he sued her.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Christopher McGraugh determined Gardner “purposefully violated the Sunshine law,” ordered Gardner to search for and produce open public records responsive to Solomon's request within 30 days, fined Gardner’s office $5,000 for violating the open records law and criticized Gardner’s office for “reckless, dilatory and intentional refusal to timely file a responsive pleading,” to Solomon’s lawsuit – even after being given 30 days to do so, according to court records.

In its decision to uphold McGraugh’s ruling, the Court of Appeals wrote: “(Gardner’s) failure to file a timely response to (Solomon’s) amended petition was not the result of an unexpected or unavoidable hindrance, accident or mishap, but was instead the result of defendant’s careless inattention and deliberate disregard.”

A statement from Gardner's office is as follows:

“We are disappointed with the Court’s decision, and intend to investigate and pursue the Office’s right to have the decision reviewed.”

Solomon called the Appeals Court ruling a "win for the public."

"There is a lot to this story the public hasn’t seen," he said. "You've got a prosecutor with misconduct charges against her and it's been very difficult to get any transparency from the office.

"I'm grateful the higher court backed up the lower court and I can't wait to get this information out to the public to show the public exactly what went on from start to finish. In a prosecution, there should never be anything you want to hide from the public, and this prosecutor treated this material as if it were proprietary."

Solomon filed his Sunshine request Jan. 10, 2020 asking for records of contacts between Gardner and her staff with the following individuals between Jan. 6, 2017 and July 3, 2019: Scott Faughn; Al Watkins; Jeffrey E. Smith; JES Holdings LLC; Jeff Smith; The Missouri Workforce Housing Association; George Soros; Michael Vachon; Soros Fund Management; The Safety and Justice PAC; Open Society Foundation; Scott Simpson; Katrina Sneed; Phil Sneed; State Rep. Stacy Newman; and State Rep. Jay Barnes, according to the Associated Press.

In motions to dismiss Solomon’s lawsuit, an attorney for Gardner’s office alleged the custodian of records never received Solomon’s request for records.

Gardner also hired Clayton-based law firm Capes Sokol to represent her in this case.

As part of Tuesday’s Missouri Court of Appeals ruling, McGraugh will assess how much money Gardner’s office must pay Solomon for his attorneys fees along with turning over the requested public information.

Dave Roland, president of the Freedom Center of Missouri represented Solomon.

"Unfortunately what Kim Gardner did was just blow off her responsibility to properly respond to a Sunshine law request and that’s something that affects citizens no matter what their ideology is, what their political preferences are, we need our public officials to be open and transparent to the people in the way the law requires and that’s what this case is about and that’s why it’s so important that we won the case," he said.

    

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