Aaron Malin and Freedom Center of Missouri Awarded $12,000 and Attorney's Fees
The ACLU filed the suit in 2015 on behalf of University of Denver law student Aaron Malin. The student wanted records pertaining to violations of drug task forces in Missouri’s drug war. The requests were refused by Mark Richardson, the Cole County Prosecutor.
Judge Patricia Joyce said in her ruling that the prosecutor violated the open-record laws on purpose with full knowledge of his actions and hit him with the hefty fine. She said that by repeatedly denying the requests, he violated state law. The open-record law is called the Sunshine Law and it guarantees that the government makes records available to the public. The ACLU hopes that the ruling will make other government officials think twice in the future from violating the law.
Malin has been filing requests for public records in an effort to combat violations from the state’s law enforcement in the war on drugs since 2014. “It sends a huge message to government entities across the state that if they don’t comply with the Sunshine Law, there are going to be consequences, regardless of who the records requests come from. It’s my hope that those agencies will take notice of what happened here today and will comply going forward,” Malin said after the ruling.
Along with the fine, the judge has also ordered Richardson to give up the records, as well as pay for Malin’s lawyer’s fees. It was the first time that Malin won monetary compensation from one of his lawsuits. Monetary damages are only awarded when it has been proven that the defendant, in this case the prosecutor, knowingly violates the Sunshine Law.
Malin began the lawsuits in order to lift the veil on the practices of law enforcement drug task forces and rogue agents in Missouri. His strategy worked, and he is hoping that justice will be served with his other lawsuits as well.