Though Camden County commissioners mulled legal action against the Missouri Attorney General's Office over its opinion in a Sunshine Law complaint made against them, the Camden County resident who filed the complaint should soon be given access to the records she sought.
The Camden County resident who filed a complaint with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office alleging a violation of the Missouri Sunshine Law by the county government should soon be given access to the records she sought.
Theresa Townsend should be viewing certain legal billing later this month after email correspondence between her and the county’s Sunshine Law attorney Matthew Growcock has set dates for her to view the records at the courthouse. Townsend’s initial request was to view the records she was requesting rather than taking copies of records with her.
Growcock explained that the county will have legal counsel review the legal bills for redaction to protect attorney-client privilege.
On September 6, 2017, Townsend emailed the Sunshine Law request to county commissioners, Growcock and official Custodian of Records Camden County Clerk Rowland Todd. She sought all bills between January 1, 2016 through September 1, 2017 from Charles Mcelyea (sic), Ryan Harding, Matthew Growcock and Greg Williams either as individuals or as members of law firms that have billed Camden County. The individuals listed are all attorneys who are commonly known to have done legal work for Camden County.
Townsend was originally denied access to the records on the basis of RSMo. 610.021(1), which does close records relating to legal actions, causes of action or litigation. She subsequently filed a Sunshine Law complaint alleging the billing amounts should not be closed records.
Growcock’s response to Assistant Attorney General Jason Lewis regarding the complaint cited the referenced section of the Missouri Sunshine Law and explained that the billing records included those from lawyers representing the county commission in a lawsuit between the county clerk and county commission. He also argued that the remainder of billing records should be closed as they were “privileged communication” between attorneys and their client, the commission.
Growcock’s initial response in March 2018 also stated that the county might not even have the records requested as the originals was destroyed after a redacted version was presented to the county auditor for payment. However Growcock has since clarified that this was a misunderstanding, and the county does maintain these records.
The assistant attorney general disagreed that the records were closed as long as the bills had only generic descriptions and not specific aspects of a particular case.
It is unclear why the county has stated that it must now redact the bills before Townsend can view them when its response to the Attorney General’s Office states that redacted versions are provided to the county auditor as part of the payment process.
Lewis indicated the AG’s office could take further legal action to enforce the Sunshine Law if further problems arose.
Legal action mulled against AG’s office over Sunshine differences
After the assistant attorney general sided with a resident on a Sunshine Law complaint earlier this month, the Camden County Commission considered legal action against the state office, but ultimately decided not to pursue anything at this time.
The discussion was mentioned by the commission’s Sunshine Law attorney Matthew Growcock in a response to a Sunshine Law request by the Lake Sun for county commission actions in closed sessions between June 4 and June 8. The Lake Sun requested this time period after the county commission noticed a closed session meeting following the communication from Assistant Attorney General Jason Lewis regarding the state office’s opinion about Theresa Townsend’s complaint alleging a Sunshine Law violation. Townsend was denied access to billing records from certain attorneys doing work on behalf of the commission.
According to Growcock, during June 4 to June 8 time period, “there was a closed session that occurred to discuss with legal counsel various issues. With regard to one of those issues, the Commission discussed whether to pursue litigation regarding the Attorney General’s letter and request to produce attorney billing records. The Commission voted not to pursue such litigation at this time.”
A second issue legal issue was also discussed, but Growcock said the matter was closed as an attorney-client privileged communication regarding ongoing litigation.