Latest in the Sunshine lawsuit vs. Parkville
n a recent motion to compel in a lawsuit against Parkville, a Platte County judge sided in favor of Jason Maki, a citizen who is suing the City of Parkville for alleged violations of the state’s Sunshine Law.
If Maki is successful in his lawsuit, the City of Parkville could be fined in excess of $300,000, not including any legal fees awarded to Maki by the court.
Parkville’s legal costs in this matter have already surpassed $100,000.
Judge James Van Amburg ordered that the City of Parkville to fully respond to multiple discovery requests filed by Maki. Maki had previously asked the court to order the city to answer his questions after the city refused to answer his requests for discovery.
Parkville’s team of attorneys objected on several grounds, including that Maki’s questions were unduly burdensome. However, in a ruling dated Feb. 9, the judge overruled the city’s arguments and gave the City of Parkville 10 days, or until Friday, Feb. 19, to provide Maki the requested information.
During the case, Maki has maintained that the city and its team of lawyers have failed to provide him information he has requested despite a judge ordering the information’s release during a hearing this past August.
In one hearing, Judge Van Amburg told Steve Coronado, one of the city-hired attorneys, that Maki “is entitled to that information and I want it provided to him.” Coronado stated he would respond to items requested “to the extent that we have the information on it.”
Van Amburg said Maki should be apprised of the processes that city officials have used to respond to his Sunshine requests. Specifically, those processes include search terms used, amounts charged and how fees were calculated. During that hearing, Coronado again replied “understood,” but according to court documents the information was never provided.
City’s Responses to Date Have Been Evasive
One of Maki’s Sunshine requests asked for communications between city officials and members of the press. His lawsuit claims that the city withheld hundreds of the communications sought from the public. In the court documents, the city responded that a “technical error of some type” led to the documents being withheld from Maki.
Maki has since requested that the city “describe in detail” the city’s alleged “technical error of some type.” Attorneys for the city objected to answering Maki’s request as they feel it is “vague, ambiguous and argumentative” and would require speculation, “as to facts being sought…”
The judge agreed with Maki’s assessment that the city’s descriptions of the technical error that led to information being withheld was “incomplete or evasive” and has ordered the city to answer Maki’s question.
In other information requested, Maki asked the city to describe the process the city uses in maintaining the identities of property and their owners including the methods by which the city determines where to send sewer bills.
The city’s response was: “The city doesn’t maintain a list.”
The city’s legal team also objected to Maki’s question as being “broad and unduly burdensome” and that it would require “a narrative response” that would require the defendant to “guess and to speculate” regarding the information being sought. Maki responded that “interrogatories naturally seek some narrative form response,” and that the city is not overly burdened by providing such information.
The final interrogatory to which the city’s legal defense objected, asks for the city to identify anyone that the city officials or staff have “discussed” topics “concerning” Maki’s records requests. The interrogatory specifically requests the city to identify members and officers of boards, commissions, political subdivisions, and quasi-governmental groups, including members of Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) with whom Maki’s requests were “discussed.”
The city’s attorneys claimed that the words “concerning” and “discussed” are overly broad and require speculation “as to their meaning” and that Maki’s question “seeks information not relevant to this case (and) not likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”
Maki responded by stating that the terms are commonly used in the English language, are not overly broad, and “do not require the city to speculate.”
In summation, Maki’s court filing stated, that the City of Parkville has evaded “its duty to make legal records available to Mr. Maki that he requested under the Sunshine Law” and by refusing to answer the questions “is acting evasively, demonstrating conscious and intentional disregard for the discovery process and the court’s prior rulings in the case.”
The filing continues that “the city’s blanket, boilerplate, and nonspecific objections are unfounded and do not apply to Mr. Maki’s interrogatories.”
The latest court hearing in the case was Jan. 25, and another was scheduled for Monday, Feb. 8, but was canceled, presumably due to weather. Another date has not yet been set.