‘You need to do better,’ Van Amburg tells city’s legal counsel
In a hearing in which the plaintiff accused the city’s attorneys of “gamesmanship” when it comes to producing discovery, the Platte County judge in a Sunshine lawsuit once again ordered an attorney representing the City of Parkville to produce documents.
The latest ruling by Judge James Van Amburg was made during a hearing Monday in which a resident who is suing the city for allegedly withholding documents produced a lengthy list of items that either continue to be withheld or were supplied blacked-out with numerous redactions.
In this instance, the information requested by Parkville area resident Jason Maki, concerns city communications between officials regarding the lawsuit he filed more than a year ago.
“We are in the process of reviewing those and producing,” Steven Coronado, an attorney for the city, told the judge, and added that two attorneys and a paralegal were in the process of reviewing about 1,500 documents.
But Maki argued that some documents the city had produced were improperly redacted, and in some cases were obvious public records. As an example, Maki held up two documents he received from the city which turned out to be public meeting notices, documents which are open to the public, however the city had made numerous redactions to them before providing them to Maki.
“These are public meeting notices, there is absolutely no reason for these documents to be redacted. It makes me wonder what else they’re improperly redacting,” Maki said to the judge. “It’s a head scratcher.”
Maki added, “We may be entering a new phase of discussing which documents have been improperly redacted.”
Coronado said, “I understand his concerns, we’re trying to do the best we can.”
“Well, you need to do better, Mr. Coronado,” said Judge Van Amburg.
Coronado further promised to create a log of redactions that will be detailed enough for Maki to determine that what’s been redacted is actually warranted under the law.
“That’s doable,” Coronado said, to which Judge Van Amburg responded: “Well, we’ll see. It has not been doable so far.”
The judge also instructed the city to provide Maki a log for any documents the city has withheld from him.
“I think it’s busy work, but I will do that,” Coronado said.
Maki also told Van Amburg the city has not released any documents or communications pertaining to an investigation by the Missouri Attorney General to determine if the city was illegally withholding public records. The statewide office dropped the investigation after Maki announced he was suing the city in civil court.
Van Amburg told Coronado: “If it is related to Mr. Maki’s Sunshine requests, it needs to be produced.”
The judge could be seen on the virtual court hearing removing his glasses and rubbing his head.
Due to the city’s delays, the case schedule will be extended
During earlier court hearings, Maki has argued the city’s team of attorneys had not produced documents normally shared during an early phase of a lawsuit dubbed “discovery.” He told the judge Monday that the case is quickly advancing on what would have been the trial phase of the previously approved schedule. However, he is still awaiting the documents he needs to proceed with the case.
“It has been over a year and I still don’t have a full document production,” Maki said.
Toward the end of the hearing, Maki remarked about how the delays in receiving discovery documents from the city have impacted the previously-agreed to case schedule, which was agreed to in September.
“Recently a date on the case schedule passed in which I was supposed to identify a expert witnesses but I can’t identify expert witnesses because I still don’t have the documents I have requested in discovery,” Maki said.
Because of the significant delays in the city’s production, Maki said he would be approaching Coronado with a proposed new case schedule to account for the year-long delays.
The judge agreed and added: “Mr. Coronado will have no objection to that.”
Coronado briefly smiled and said: “Thank you, your honor, you are correct.”
Van Amburg then instructed Coronado to direct his office staff to “put the case on the front burner as far as getting documents to Mr. Maki” and said “I want everything done within 30 days. If you could do that, please.”
“Yes, your honor, got it,” Coronado responded.