A release, yesterday, from Representative Peter Merideth (D):
State Rep. Peter Merideth
For Immediate Release:
Aug. 8, 2019
Five months later, Schmitt hasn’t provided requested legal opinion
Attorney general shows pattern of protecting GOP officials in Sunshine Law cases
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – More than five months after state Rep. Peter Merideth submitted a request for a legal opinion from Attorney General Eric Schmitt regarding whether the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is violating state law and the Missouri Constitution by preventing public access to certain lawmaker records, Schmitt has yet to respond – even though his office promised to do so with 90 days.
Yesterday, State Auditor Nicole Galloway noted that Schmitt, a Republican, likewise has failed to timely act on a request she submitted on May 7 seeking the attorney general’s opinion on whether government entities can assert the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as justification to close portions of public documents that are open under Missouri’s Sunshine Law. Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s office recently invented the novel legal argument, which has been ridiculed by experts in open records law.
“Eric Schmitt has established an unfortunate pattern of looking the other way when Republican elected officials violate the law by shielding public records from public scrutiny,” said Merideth, D-St. Louis. “As attorney general, it is his duty to fight for transparency and protect Missourians. Instead he has chosen to protect officials of his own party and keep Missourians from holding their state government accountable.”
Merideth submitted his request for an attorney general’s opinion on March 7. Other than a same-day letter acknowledging receipt of the request and promising to respond to respond “within 90 days,” Merideth has received no further information from Schmitt regarding this issue.
“Missouri law requires the attorney general to issue legal opinions when requested by other elected officials,” Merideth said. “Eric Schmitt needs to do his job.”
Merideth’s original opinion request and the attorney general’s letter of acknowledgment are attached.
The original request for an opinion from Attorney General Eric Schmitt (r):
Request for Attorney General Opinion
1. Information about requestor: Representative Peter Merideth represents Missouri House District 80. He was first elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 2016, reelected in 2018, and currently serves as a member of the 100th General Assembly.
2. Official capacity of requestor: Rep. Merideth is a duly elected State Representative serving the constituents of St. Louis City residing in Missouri House of Representatives District 80. He currently serves as a member of the 100th General Assembly, First Regular Session. His principal office is in Cole County, Missouri, in the Missouri Capitol building.
3. The question of LAW upon which I request your legal opinion is as follows: Does Rule 127 of the rules governing proceedings before the Missouri House of Representatives for the 100th General Assembly, as set forth in House Resolution 7, passed by the Missouri House of Representatives on January 15, 2019, violate Article III, Section 19(b) of the Missouri Constitution?
4. A complete statement of the FACTS giving rise to this question is as follows: Constitutional Amendment 1 (“Clean Missouri”) On November 6, 2018, 62 percent of Missouri voters approved Constitutional Amendment 1, also known as the “Clean Missouri” Amendment. Among its provisions, Constitutional Amendment 1 required all legislative records, defined broadly, to be subject to the state open meetings and records law, known as the Missouri Sunshine Law. Subsequent to its approval, Article III, Section 19 of the Missouri Constitution was amended to include subsection (b), which states: “Legislative records shall be public records and subject to generally applicable state laws governing public access to public records, including the Sunshine Law. Legislative records include, but are not limited to, all records, in whatever form or format, of the official acts of the general assembly, of the official acts of legislative committees, of the official acts of members of the general assembly, of individual legislators, their employees and staff, of the conduct of legislative business and all records that are created, stored or distributed through legislative branch facilities, equipment or mechanisms, including electronic. Each member of the general assembly is the custodian of legislative records under the custody and control of the member, their employees and staff. The chief clerk of the house or the secretary of the senate are the custodians for all other legislative records relating to the house and the senate, respectively.” House Rule 127 On January 15, 2019, the Missouri House of Representatives adopted House Resolution 7, which details the rules governing proceedings before the Missouri House of Representatives for the 100th General Assembly. House Resolution 7 included a new rule, Rule 127, “House Records,” which purports to grant Members of the Missouri House of Representatives the authority to close constituent case files, which it defined broadly, as well as records containing caucus strategy, which it did not define. The rule states: “Members may keep constituent case files, and records of the caucus of the majority or minority party of the house that contain caucus strategy, confidential. Constituent case files include any correspondence, written or electronic, between a member and a constituent, or between a member and any other party pertaining to a constituent’s grievance, a question of eligibility for any benefit as it relates to a particular constituent, or any issue regarding a constituent’s request for assistance.” Sunshine Request On March 2, 2019, Rep. Peter Merideth, who is currently an elected official in the Missouri House of Representatives, received two requests for legislative records pursuant to the Missouri Sunshine law. The first request specifically asked for emails purportedly, though likely fraudulently, sent to Rep. Merideth using his constituent’s email address. The second request specifically asked for emails, including attachments to said emails, sent from Democratic caucus staff and leadership to Rep. Merideth in regards to certain bills filed in 2018.
5. List each and every governmental entity involved in this request:
Rep. Peter Merideth The House Minority Caucus.
6. Which of the entities listed in response to Question 5 have attorneys paid with public funds? For each entity listed, attach a copy of the written legal opinion of each such attorney on the question involved herein. Rep. Merideth is represented in this matter by the House Minority Caucus Counsel, Casey Millburg. As an employee of the Missouri House of Representatives, Ms. Millburg is paid with public funds. Ms. Millburg’s written legal opinion on the question is attached.
7. State in detail how the question of law relates to your official position or to the discharge of your duties. Pursuant Article III, Section 19(b) of the Missouri Constitution, each member of the general assembly is the custodian of legislative records under the custody and control of the member, their employees and staff. As the custodian of such records for his office, Rep. Merideth is responsible for determining how to comply with Sunshine requests made for his office’s legislative records. Further, pursuant to this subsection, in doing so Rep. Merideth must comply with the provisions of the state’s open records laws. As a duly elected official serving as a Member of the Missouri House of Representatives, Rep. Merideth is also subject to the rules governing proceedings before the Missouri House of Representatives for the 100th General Assembly. As set forth in House Resolution 7 passed by the General Assembly on January 15, 2019, Rule 127 purports to give Rep. Merideth and all Members of the Missouri House of Representatives the power to determine whether or not to release constituent case files of the type at issue in Mr. Pedroli’s request in response to a Sunshine request for such records.
8. Is any litigation pending involving the issues raised in your opinion request? We are aware of no pending litigation involving the specific issues in this request.
9. If the answer to Question 8 is “yes” list the name of case, court in which it is pending and docket number of case: See above.
It ain’t exactly rocket surgery.