Connect with us

Missouri

New Sunshine Law requests delayed as Missouri AG continues work on backlog

Published

on

New Sunshine Law requests delayed as Missouri AG continues work on backlog


Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey has nearly completed work on a backlog of requests for records submitted to his office by the public last year.

That means work can finally begin processing requests submitted this year.

The 2023 requests were initially supposed to be completed by May. But a spokeswoman for the attorney general said staff turnover, coupled with a huge spike last year in the number of requests for the office’s records, meant the process took longer than anticipated.

Advertisement

As of last week, there were 15 pending requests left from 2023, said Madeline Sieren, Bailey’s spokeswoman.

Bailey was sworn in as attorney general in January 2023, taking over the office after his predecessor was elected to the U.S. Senate. And from the early months of his tenure, Bailey faced criticism over how his office has handled public requests for records.

Those concerns were amplified by the fact that the attorney general’s office enforces Missouri’s Sunshine Law, as well as Bailey’s involvement in crafting a failed proposal to weaken public records laws while working for Gov. Mike Parson.

There were 224 unfinished records requests still pending when Bailey took over, and last year the number of requests submitted to his office ballooned from 468 in 2022 to 784.

Advertisement

Five staffers were assigned to work through the backlog, but Bailey’s policy of handling requests on a first-come, first-served basis has created massive delays. Newer inquiries that are small and easily dispensed with sit in limbo for months, even up to a year, as staff works on older and more expansive requests.

More: Willard city officials required to undergo Sunshine Law training after complaints

For example, a request by The Independent in August for three days of Bailey’s official calendar — typically turned around in a matter of days by other government agencies — wasn’t completed for 10 months.

Sieren said the attorney general’s office is currently projecting new requests will take 60 days to complete. She has also noted the office does not charge for any public records requests, a practice that differs from nearly every other state agencies. 

But that’s done little to soothe criticism.

Advertisement

By allowing requests to pile up, and forcing the public to wait months for records that could be quickly provided, the attorney general is not abiding by the Sunshine Law, said Bernie Rhodes, a First Amendment attorney who has represented numerous media outlets, including The Independent.

“Complying with the Sunshine Law is not optional,” he said. “The law states that, ‘each public governmental body shall make available for inspection and copying by the public of that body’s public records.’ The word ‘shall’ is mandatory.”

If government transparency were actually important to Bailey, Rhodes said, he would dedicate the resources needed to ensure his office is complying with the law.

“Choosing to file papers with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Donald Trump is optional, not mandatory,” he said, referencing Bailey asking the court to delay the former president’s sentencing for 34 felonies until after the November election.

“Every lawyer working on that matter,” Rhodes said, “could be working on complying with the Sunshine Law.”

Advertisement

More: Politician or the people’s lawyer? How the role of Missouri Attorney General has evolved

Rhodes notes he’s still waiting on a request he made in March for a copy of the office’s sunshine log — a list or spreadsheet that most government offices maintain that documents pending records requests.

This sort of narrow request historically can be turned around in a matter of days.

 Rhodes is still waiting.

Meanwhile, an identical request was filed in August by Jeff Basinger, a Columbia attorney running as a Democrat for the Missouri House. While Rhodes hasn’t received his records, Basinger got a copy of the attorney general’s sunshine log late last month.

Advertisement

Why didn’t Rhodes get a copy of the same records?

“Good question,” Rhodes said. “I have no idea why.”

The sunshine log obtained by Basinger and provided to The Independent documents years of requests — from individuals, reporters, political operatives and organizations.

A frequent inquiry that shows up on the log involves records about companies accused of ripping off customers. The attorney general’s office enforces the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, which protects consumers from deceptive, unethical or illegal actions by businesses.

“Sunshine requests are used by Missourians to investigate problems and fix them,” Basinger said. “Denying prompt access to information negates the opportunity for citizens, journalists and public interest groups to effectively address the subject of their concern.”

Advertisement

This story was first published at missouriindependent.com.



Source link

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Missouri

2024 Missouri Tigers Position Preview: Tight End

Published

on

2024 Missouri Tigers Position Preview: Tight End


If there was any more proof to show that Eli Drinkwitz has made progress in ‘locking down the (Missouri) borders,’ look no further than the Missouri Tigers’ tight end room. Not only is rising sophomore Brett Norfleet, a breakout player for Missouri last year, from the St. Louis area but so are two promsing incoming freshman in Jude James and Whit Hafer.

With the promising potential of Norfleet, the veteran experience of others, the Missouri tight end room could help take the Missouri offense to another level this season. Their contributions, especially as blockers, should make the job of every one on the offense easier. Here’s an early look at the position group.

Projected Depth Chart:

1. Brett Norfleet
2. Tyler Stephens
3. Jordon Harris
4. Whit Hafer
5. Jude James
Walk-ons: Adam Molitor, Tucker Miller

Advertisement

Sophomore, 6’7″, 255* lbs

Norfleet’s freshman stat line, 18 receptions and 197 yards, doesn’t do justice to the impact he had on the field for the Tigers. His contributions as a blocker are obviously not visible in the box score. To become even more formidable of a force for defensive ends to get by, Norfleet bulked up from 235 lbs to around 255 lbs this spring (*atleast bythe account of offensive coordinator Kirby Moore).

He still earned a spot on the All-SEC freshman team and had impressive showings against LSU and Arkanas, catching two touchdown passes against the Razorbacks. The St. Louis product started to find his groove as a receiver later on in the season and should continue to develop that area of his game into his sophomore season to be a main weapon in the Missouri passing attack.

Senior, 6’6″, 243 lbs

Stephens brings size to the fleld but is a pretty one-dimensional tight end. He saw more playing time in 2022 than in 2023, but only caught five receptions in both seasons. In Moore’s offense, there’s not many opportunities for two tight ends sets. Stephens still saw significant playing time in the early part of the 2023 season but once Norfleet proved that he could play well in the SEC, Stephens’ playing time quickly diminished. Expect Stephens to be a goal line/short-yardage situation blocker this season.

Advertisement

Sophomore, 6’4″, 239 lbs

Harris made his way onto the field for all 12 games of his freshman season in 2023, thanks to special teams. He did not record a single reception. He was a three-star prospect but is a project that could take some more time to develop. He didn’t start playing football until his senior season and tight end is not an easy position to learn. Expect him to mainly play special teams in 2024 while earning some more opporutunities on offense.

True freshman, 6’7″, 255 lbs

Whit Hafer, from Joplin, Missouri, has incredbile size that make him a difficult receiver for anyone to defend. He was rated as a three-star prospect and the No. 53 tight end in the Class of 2024 by 247Sports.

He was a two-sport athlete in high school, also playing basketball, evident with his vertical jump and impressive athleticism for his size. Hafer, like Norfleet, was a dominant blocker in high school that will hope to translate those skills to the SEC. Expect Hafer to get some looks as a receiver and blocker this season if he impresses in fall camp.

Advertisement

True freshman, 6’2″, 211 lbs

Jude James was an overlooked prospect for most of his recruiting process before an impressive performance at a Mizzou prospect camp.

He was recruited simply as an athlete, also playing at safety at an elite level for Francis Howell High School in St. Charles, Missouri. He’ll likely have to add on some size to be a consistent blocker but he undoubtedly has the athleticism to be a receiving threat who can make some jaw-dropping catches. Playing at safety seemingly made James adverse to contact. He will not be afraid to handle the dirty work as a blocker once he develops.

Read more Missouri Tigers news:

Football Position Previews: Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver

Advertisement

Watch: Top Storylines for Mizzou Football Ahead of Fall Camp

Former Missouri Infielder Trevor Austin Signs Free Agent Deal with Houston



Source link

Continue Reading

Missouri

Missouri River 340 race makes its way through mid-Missouri

Published

on

Missouri River 340 race makes its way through mid-Missouri


The Missouri River 340 race also known as MR340 is a non-motorized boat race of over 400 teams participating that travel from Kansas City to St. Charles, Missouri. Participants paddle across the state in kayaks and canoes for a total of 340 miles in the Missouri River.
The race contains six checkpoints and six paddle stops, one of each in mid-Missouri. Checkpoint #4 is located in Jefferson City and the paddle stop is at Coopers landing in Columbia ahead of the Jefferson City checkpoint. Participants are not required to stop at any point in the race, but many do, the MR340 is considered to be the world’s largest non-stop river race.



Source link

Continue Reading

Missouri

A Missouri prison again has ignored an order to free a wrongfully convicted inmate

Published

on

A Missouri prison again has ignored an order to free a wrongfully convicted inmate


ST. LOUIS — For the second time in weeks, a Missouri prison has ignored a court order to release an inmate whose murder conviction was overturned. Just as in the case of Sandra Hemme, actions by the state’s attorney general are keeping Christopher Dunn locked up.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Jason Sengheiser on Monday tossed out Dunn’s conviction for a 1990 killing. Dunn, 52, has spent 33 years behind bars, and he remained Tuesday at the state prison in Licking. “The State of Missouri shall immediately discharge Christopher Dunn from its custody,” Sengheiser’s ruling states.

Dunn wasn’t released after his conviction was overturned because Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey appealed the judge’s ruling, “and we’re awaiting the outcome of that legal action,” Missouri Department of Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said in an email Tuesday.

The decision to keep Dunn incarcerated puzzled St. Louis Circuit Attorney Gabe Gore, whose office investigated his case and determined he was wrongfully convicted, prompting a May hearing before Sengheiser.

Advertisement

“In our view, the judge’s order was very clear, ordering his immediate release,” Gore said at a news conference Tuesday. “Based on that, we are considering what approach and what legal options we have to obtain Mr. Dunn’s relief.” He declined to specify what legal options were under consideration.

Bailey’s office didn’t respond to Tuesday messages seeking comment.

Dunn’s situation is similar to what happened to Hemme, 64, who spent 43 years in prison for the fatal stabbing of a woman in St. Joseph in 1980. A judge on June 14 cited evidence of “actual innocence” and overturned her conviction. She had been the longest-held wrongly incarcerated woman known in the U.S., according to the Midwest Innocence Project, which worked to free Hemme and Dunn.

But appeals by Bailey — all the way up to the Missouri Supreme Court — kept Hemme imprisoned at the Chillicothe Correctional Center. During a court hearing Friday, Judge Ryan Horsman said that if Hemme wasn’t released within hours, Bailey himself would have to appear in court with contempt of court on the table. She was released later that day.

The judge also scolded Bailey’s office for calling the Chillicothe warden and telling prison officials not to release Hemme after he ordered her to be freed on her own recognizance. It wasn’t clear if the attorney general’s office similarly called prison officials at the prison where Dunn is housed.

Advertisement

Dunn’s wife, Kira, said they would hold off really celebrating until he’s out of prison.

“We are overjoyed, and at the same time, we’re also afraid to really exhale until Chris actually takes his first free steps and feels the free ground against his feet,” Kira Dunn said at the news conference. “When that happens, I think all these feelings we’ve been holding onto for so long will finally erupt.”

Dunn was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1990 shooting of 15-year-old Ricco Rogers. Gore filed a motion in February seeking to vacate the guilty verdict.

After weighing the case for nearly two months, Sengheiser issued a ruling that cited “a clear and convincing showing of ‘actual innocence’ that undermines the basis for Dunn’s convictions because in light of new evidence, no juror, acting reasonably, would have voted to find Dunn guilty of these crimes beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Lawyers for Bailey’s office said at the hearing that initial testimony from two boys at the scene who identified Dunn as the shooter was correct, even though they recanted as adults.

Advertisement

A Missouri law adopted in 2021 lets prosecutors request hearings when they see evidence of a wrongful conviction. Although Bailey’s office is not required to oppose such efforts, he also did so at a hearing for Lamar Johnson, who spent 28 years in prison for murder. Another St. Louis judge ruled in February 2023 that Johnson was wrongfully convicted, and he was freed.

Another hearing begins Aug. 21 for death row inmate Marcellus Williams. Bailey’s office is opposing the challenge to Williams’ conviction, too.

The hearing comes with urgency. Williams is scheduled to be executed Sept. 24.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell filed a motion in January to vacate the conviction of Williams for the fatal stabbing of Lisha Gayle in 1998. Bell’s motion said three experts determined that Williams’ DNA was not on the handle of the butcher knife used in the killing.

Williams narrowly escaped execution before. In 2017, then-Gov. Eric Greitens granted a stay and appointed a board of inquiry to examine innocence claim. The board never issued a ruling, and Gov. Mike Parson, like Greitens a Republican, dissolved it last year.

Advertisement

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in June that Parson had the authority to dissolve the board and set the September execution date.

Copyright 2024 NPR





Source link

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Trending