Discovery items that have been withheld from Maki
Platte County judge took action Monday in an ongoing dispute in which a private citizen is suing the City of Parkville for violations of the state’s open meetings and records law, commonly known as the Sunshine Law.
Judge James Van Amburg determined that the City of Parkville has waived its attorney-client privileges related to its discussions regarding Jason Maki’s Sunshine requests.
In doing so, the judge also denied the city’s request that he reconsider a court order issued Feb. 9 requiring the city to fully answer Maki’s discovery questions.
In addition during Monday’s hearing, the judge ordered the City of Parkville to produce all of the documents sought under discovery that have been withheld from Maki.
The hearing included Maki, who is representing himself and two attorneys on behalf of the city, Steven Coronado and Paul Gordon, of the law firm Baty Otto Coronado of Kansas City.
Multiple times during the hearing Parkville’s attorneys attacked Maki’s motives.
“He just wants to punish these people,” Gordon said, referring to the city and adding that Maki is making certain arguments just “to get headlines.”
In response, Van Amburg said, “This is the third time I’ve heard about the newspaper, which is pretty irrelevant to the legal arguments we’re making here today,” seeming to indicate to Parkville’s attorneys that they needed to move past their attacks on Maki.
“Understood,” Gordon and Coronado both said in response to the judge’s comment.
Van Amburg also heard additional arguments regarding the failure of the Parkville mayor and aldermen to produce requested communications sought via subpoena by Maki. The city’s legal team argued that instructions made by the Missouri Attorney General, who began investigating the city in 2019 on the basis of Sunshine violations, to retain documents for future possible litigation did not apply to the elected aldermen and mayor, especially when, as in this case, communications are conducted on private devices.
“There’s no legal basis to say they are all under an obligation to save them, especially if it’s not in the city’s possession,” said Stephen Coronado.
“I don’t think that’s any reason to hold them in contempt of court,” Gordon said and added that Maki has no evidence aldermen possess additional documents.
In retort, Maki provided the court multiple forms of exhibits as evidence of documents that should have been produced by the elected officials through subpoena but were not.
Gordon said if the attorney general and Maki wanted individual aldermen to retain such communications on private devices they should have sent retention requests to each alderman, but instead only addressed the matter to city officials as a group.
In addition, Gordon said it’s reasonable to expect individuals, such as the aldermen to delete emails. Maki pointed out to the court that the Parkville elected officials had “brazenly flaunted their use of private email communications to conduct public business” to the Missouri Attorney General during its 2019 investigation and that the city’s duty to preserve records for future litigation extended to the mayor and aldermen’s private communications, as the city had sanctioned its use of private communication services for public business.
Van Amburg seemed to summarize with Maki’s claim that elected officials fall under the same obligation as city staff when he said, “there’s separation between ordinary citizens as compared with someone issuing policies (elected officials such as aldermen).”
Maki asked the judge to find city officials in contempt of court for failing to produce documents they had in their possession and otherwise had a legal duty to retain. The legal team told Van Amburg that a contempt order is an extreme measure and should not apply in this case.
The judge took under advisement Maki’s request and said he will rule on the matter within the next 10 days or by Thursday, March 11.