State Auditor Nicole Galloway is praising a court decision clearing her office of wrongdoing.
Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem issued a 24-page ruling Monday stating Galloway’s office did not violate the state’s Sunshine Law. Missouri Alliance for Freedom brought a lawsuit against the Auditor’s Office claiming non-compliance with the law based on three public records requests that were sent in May 2017. The organization had sought all records of communications of Galloway for her entire term of office.
Judge Beetem based his decision on testimony from a cellular phone forensics expert, who said Apple iPhones used by the office don’t store text message files and actively attempt to prevent users from gaining access to such data. Beetem determined that because the form of the records requested did not exist, the Auditor’s Office did not violate the Sunshine Law by failing to produce them.
“The Court concludes that there has been no loss of any public record[s] which are the subject matter of the civil action,” said Beetem.
Missouri Alliance for Freedom is a non-profit in a classification in which it doesn’t have to report its donors. It’s affiliated with the GOP as is the Kansas City-based law firm, Graves-Garrett, that it hired to bring its case. The law firm is headed by Todd Graves, who is chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.
The non-profit filed the lawsuit after Galloway conducted an audit critical of the state Revenue Department’s late delivery of tax refund checks to residents, a problem that has since been corrected.
In a statement, Galloway, a Democrat, claimed the Missouri Alliance for Freedom was trying to impede her from probing misconduct. “This lawsuit was intended to have a chilling effect on my efforts to investigate fraud and mismanagement at all levels of government,” said Galloway. “Those tactics did not succeed.”
Today’s ruling is straightforward: my office has not violated the Sunshine Law,” she continued. “I remain committed to pursuing answers on behalf of taxpayers.”
Galloway said her office had voluntarily provided more than 45,000 pages in documents to Missouri Alliance for Freedom at no charge.
The non-profit had asked Judge Beetem to impose a $5,000 civil fine on Auditor Galloway’s office and direct the office to cover Graves-Garrett’s attorney fees. Beetem ordered the Missouri Alliance to pay costs and further exonerated Galloway’s office. “This Court finds in favor of Defendant State Auditor Nicole Galloway on all claims asserted by Plaintiff Missouri Alliance for Freedom,” Beetem wrote.
Missourinet was unable to reach Missouri Alliance for Freedom or the Graves-Garrett law firm for comment.