The ongoing legal battle over Missouri House Rule 127, which allows lawmakers to maintain confidentiality over certain documents, has now moved the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District. The Court recently heard oral arguments regarding the rule's compliance with the 2018 voter-approved constitutional amendment, Clean Missouri, which subjects the General Assembly to transparency laws.
Marc Ellinger, representing the Missouri House, argued that the House could have imposed even stricter restrictions on access and emphasized that the documents were produced with minimal redactions. He contended that while Clean Missouri rendered legislative records public, it did not automatically classify them as open records. Ellinger highlighted the distinction between public records and open records, asserting that legislative records "shall be public records and subject to generally applicable state laws governing public access to public records, including the 'Sunshine Law.'"
The legal dispute originated from a 2019 lawsuit filed by Mark Pedroli, a St. Louis-based attorney specializing in government transparency. The case was prompted by a St. Louis Post-Dispatch report revealing letters allegedly sent by constituents supporting legislation against out-of-state companies. Pedroli's lawsuit claims that some legislators withheld records or redacted information when asked to produce emails resembling those received by elected officials.
The Cole County Circuit Court previously ruled in favor of the House in January, asserting that the Sunshine Law allows certain records to be protected and only grants access to open and public records. The appeals court judges, however, provided few indications of their leanings during the recent hearing.
The outcome of this legal battle, which may ultimately reach the Missouri Supreme Court on appeal, will significantly impact the delicate balance between legislative confidentiality and the public's right to transparency. Marc Ellinger's arguments and the court's eventual decision will play a crucial role in shaping the interpretation and application of transparency laws in Missouri.