New developments in Sunshine Law court case
he Parkville area resident suing city leaders for violations of the Sunshine Law is asking a Platte County Court judge to hold officials in contempt of court for purposely withholding documents under subpoena and repeatedly delaying providing the requested information under the Missouri Civil Discovery laws.
“Those materials will likely provide direct or circumstantial evidence that the city knowingly and purposefully violated Missouri’s Sunshine law,” the filing states.
The latest court brief asks that the following be found in contempt: Mayor Nan Johnston, City Administrator Joe Parente and each of the eight-member board of aldermen: Tina Welch, Robert Lock, Marc Sportsman, Dave Rittman, Brian Whitley, Greg Plumb, Philip Wassmer and Douglas Wylie.
The filing alleges the officials have used their city email addresses as well as private email servers to communicate with each other and have disobeyed recent court-ordered subpoenas to produce communications from private server communications. In addition, the documents have been withheld “without excuse” or explanation, the filing alleges.
Platte County Judge James Van Amburg, who ordered the parties to comply with the release of documents during an August hearing, will consider Maki’s contempt request during a Friday, Dec. 11 hearing.
Contempt is punishable by a fine, jail time or another action, including community service or any combination of the listed sanctions.
Maki, who is representing himself, filed the suit this past February and his court documents state that city officials have failed to comply with even the most basic requests for information during an early court process known as civil discovery.
The case’s next court hearing is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 20, when the judge is expected to rule on the city’s refusal to release documents despite his stern order during a seperate August ruling. The judge told the city’s lead attorney, Steve Coronado, that Maki “is entitled to that information and I want it provided.” Coronado first insisted that Maki’s requests were too broad, unclear and that the documents he requested already had been provided before finally telling the judge he would do what he could to comply.
In a hearing this past Friday, Nov. 13, Jacob Bielenberg who is one of the five attorneys the city has working on the case, requested 10 days to file an additional court brief explaining the city’s position regarding the motion to compel, despite Maki’s complaint that the city has already had four weeks to produce additional court briefs.
The judge said city officials should be ready to produce the requested information by this Friday’s hearing set Nov. 20.
Maki has claimed the city’s actions constitute persistent stalling and his motions claims evidence that officials are not taking the court order or subpoenas seriously.
Maki’s contempt filing offers examples of how officials have purposely hidden requested documents. In some cases, an official has neglected to provide an email, exchanged between two parties, while one of the officials produced the requested document.
In the contempt filing Maki provides multiple other examples claiming that Parkville Mayor Nan Johnston has failed to produce documents known to exist, produced documents with missing pages and sometimes cut off conversations mid-correspondence, according to the filing.
Johnston, who was arrested for DWI in September, also has been found guilty by the Missouri Ethics Commission for campaign violations during her candidacy for mayor in 2019. The commission ruled she violated the law by illegally accepting corporate contributions and concealing contributions. She was fined for those infractions.
In addition, Maki’s filing states that Alderman Tina Welch “produced zero documents in response” to Maki’s Sunshine requests despite her public city email account being automatically transferred to her private home server.
In another example, Maki states that officials provided a “curiously” identical document despite it supposedly being produced by officials with different email servers and programs, according to the contempt filing. Maki claims the document is the same copied piece, with identical spacing, margins, type style and font, indicating city elected officials used the same response to his requests instead of searching their separate email systems for the required documents.
Maki accuses officials of failing to produce documents in spite of a September 2019 order advising officials to preserve documents related to Maki’s Sunshine requests in advance of possible litigation and because, at the time, the Missouri Attorney General’s office already was investigating the city’s actions. Therefore, it was illegal for documents to have been destroyed. (The state office launched an investigation into the city’s operations but decided to drop the probe after Maki filed suit.)
The officials received instructions on fulfilling requests via individual subpoenas, which stated the documents should be produced “in electronic format as they were ordinarily maintained and in their native format and in all cases with all metadata preserved,” requesting that data should not be “altered, destroyed, or omitted.”
Maki’s filing also states officials continue to fail to release documents although they already have “waived objections to subpoenas that conform to the court’s order on otherwise identical subpoenas served on the individuals earlier this year.”
In past filings, Maki has speculated officials refuse to release documents because they will provide evidence city leaders have animosity toward him. He has made requests for documents since the September 2018 approval of a massive development in the city known as Creekside. City officials and their attorneys have repeatedly claimed the requests are over-burdensome and have detracted from city business.
The development, which is currently under construction, includes more than 350,000 acres of residential, retail, and light industrial buildings, parking, and amenities. Maki, along with other residents, formed Citizens for a Better Parkville, a group dedicated to uncovering what they claim has been the city’s attempt to hide that many decisions regarding the development were made behind closed doors. The groups’ claims, which have been outlined in Maki’s lawsuit, allege that city officials met privately with developer Brian Mertz (a violation of the law) to negotiate details of the development before bringing the issue to the public in September, 2018. City officials, however, contend they complied with the law because they held the required public hearings to keep citizens informed.
Details provided in Maki’s recent court documents suggest that the city may have withheld documents from the public regarding Creekside.