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MacArthur Justice Center Sues St. Louis City Officials for Ignoring Request for Public Records Related to Arrest and Prosecution of Peaceful Protesters

Lawsuit cites concerns over lack of transparency in policing, prosecution, and processing of St. Louis City Municipal Court matters

Contact:   Mae C. Quinn, Director, 314-254-8541, mae.quinn@macarthurjustice.org

St. Louis - The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center (MJC) has sued the City of St. Louis for its failure to provide records relating to various policies and practices of the St. Louis City Municipal Court.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday in the Circuit Court for the City of St. Louis, claims that City officials have refused to turn over a single document to explain, among other things, why protesters are arrested in the City rather than provided citations, how it goes about setting bail in such matters, and what happens with fines and fees collected in such cases. The suit names as defendants the City of St. Louis, City of St. Louis Municipal Court, St. Louis City Counselor’s Office, and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Through the action, MJC seeks the production of public records, and sanctions against the City for its knowing or purposeful failure to turn over the public records.

“Missouri’s Sunshine Law is supposed to be about a commitment to openness in government,” explained Amy Breihan, an MJC staff attorney and counsel of record in the lawsuit. “We are troubled that the City seems so intent on keeping the public in the dark regarding how it is churning citizens through its municipal court.”

As the lawsuit alleges, MJC sent a request under Missouri’s Sunshine Law to the defendants in March of this year. The request sought various public records, including records related to arrests of individuals on ordinance violations, bail determinations for those individuals, jury trial practices in the City municipal court, and the Court’s practices relating to fines and fees. Yet, except for a single e-mail acknowledging the request, the City has not produced a single document in response.

“Especially in today’s political climate—as peaceful protesters are being arrested, detained, and prosecuted on civil violations—transparency regarding how the City is handling prosecution of ordinance violations is of the utmost importance,” MJC Director Mae Quinn explained.

The lawsuit further alleges the City failed to respond to Quinn’s multiple follow-up e-mails, and did not keep its promises, made during multiple phone calls with Quinn, to respond to the March request. Quinn’s most recent correspondence to the City indicated that, if materials were not provided by June 9, the group would take necessary legal action to obtain the materials, sanctions and attorneys’ fees. The City did not respond.

This is the second such suit filed by MJC in the last 30 days. Quinn stated, “It is shocking to us that the City persists in stonewalling and maintaining a shroud of secrecy over its operations even when faced with the threat of litigation.”

A copy of the petition and pertinent updates can be found here

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The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center (MJC) at St. Louis is a non-profit, public interest law firm that advocates criminal and juvenile justice system reforms. It was founded in 1985 by the family of J. Roderick MacArthur to advocate for human rights and social justice through litigation. The St. Louis office opened in the summer of 2016.  MJC also has offices in Chicago (at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law), New Orleans, at the University of Mississippi Law School, and in Washington, D.C.

Keywords: free speech, open records, protesters, St. Louis City, Sunshine

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