Appeals court hears arguments in Cape Girardeau County Sunshine Law case

Thursday, April 30, 2009

FARMINGTON, Mo. -- Eastern District Court of Appeals judges had a large audience while questioning both parties to the Cape Girardeau County Sunshine lawsuit.

The St. Francois County courthouse in Farmington held at least 30 area high school students, people involved in two other appeals cases, Cape Girardeau County Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones, 1st District Commissioner Paul Koeper and 2nd District Commissioner Jay Purcell. Purcell's lawsuit against the commission alleges Sunshine Law violations.

Chief Judge Nannette Baker, Judge Patricia Cohen and Judge Kurt Odenwald aimed many questions at why Purcell sued the commission instead of individual commissioners.

After Baker suggested Purcell was in effect suing himself, J.P. Clubb, who represents Purcell, said suing the commission as a government body was a conscious decision.

"To say you can't sue a government body would gut the Sunshine Law," he said.

Later, Clubb compared the commission to a state agency like the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services. Odenwald said it might be more like the state legislature, but took a different tack with Tom Ludwig, the county's attorney, saying commissioners vote as a body to enter into legally binding contracts. Ludwig maintained lawsuits are typically filed against a county or its individual commissioners.

Odenwald also questioned the April 17 agenda's closed meeting notice, which he said was broad.

"Why not say 'We're going to hold a closed session on any and all topics in the statute?'" Odenwald asked Ludwig.

"There is no doubt, this notice is not a monument to openness," Ludwig replied.

Cohen cautioned those at the hearing against assuming the questions reflected the upcoming decision.

"You can't tell which way the court goes by the questions we ask," she said.


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