Clay County violated a Missouri law on government transparency when it sought to charge The Kansas City Star more than $4,000 for records, according to a judge’s ruling.
The case, the latest legal loss for the county, stems from a February 2019 records request from a Kansas City Star reporter who sought invoices from the county’s outside law firm, Spencer Fane.
Joe Hatley, a Spencer Fane partner, said the invoices might contain attorney-client privileged work so the Star would have to pay about $4,200 for an attorney to review the 45 pages.
Fourth District Circuit Court Judge Roger Prokes ruled on Monday that the county violated Missouri Sunshine Law by arguing that the invoices contained privileged attorney-client information and by charging The Star for the documents.
“If governmental bodies could charge for attorney review time, they could easily block requesters from obtaining otherwise public records by making such requests unaffordable,” Prokes wrote.
However, Prokes said the violations were not intentional.
The state is auditing the county after thousands of citizens signed a petition, citing concerns like transparency and the use of outside law firms. On Tuesday, Nicole Brown, assistant county administrator, said the county plans to appeal the judge’s decision.
"The county does not believe that the Sunshine Law was intended to require the county's taxpayers to subsidize the operations of the news media,” Brown said in a statement. “Instead, the Sunshine Law is set up so that those who request records must pay the costs associated with satisfying their request.”
Aviva Okeson-Haberman is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter: @avivaokeson.