Sunshine law motion delays judges ruling

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COLUMBIA - A judge approved a motion of continuation Tuesday morning, extending the battle between the Columbia Police Officer's Association and the city of Columbia over the Missouri Sunshine Law.

A judge ordered the city of Columbia to pay a $1,000 fine as well as the CPOA's legal fees, after he ruled the city violated the law by denying the association access to public records. 

The judge was going to make a ruling on the amount of the CPOA's legal fees Tuesday.  The association's executive director, Dale Roberts, said he felt optimistic going into court.

"Our expectation was that we were going to resolve the issue today, put on evidence as to the attorney's fees and get a final order from the judge on this part of the case," he said.

But, the judge approved a motion of continuation filed late Friday by city counselor Nicole Volkert. Since it was a last-minute filing, the judge and the CPOA did not know about it until Tuesday morning.

Roberts said he was surprised the judge approved Volkert's motion when she was not there to argue for it.

"I've never heard of it happening, where you assume a judge is going to grant something without any follow up. So from my experience it's very unusual," he said.  

Volkert declined to comment due to pending litigation.

According to Roberts, the CPOA's legal fees are substantial, more than $37,000. However, the number only applies to one of the two counts in the lawsuit.

"Not all of those fees are attributed to count one, so we split out the fees we're asking for so far. Count two hasn't been tried yet. The witnesses didn't show up to trial that day so we still have to get a trial setting," he said.

Roberts said the second count doesn't involve the city of Columbia but alleges Columbia's police chief and command staff violated Missouri's Sunshine Law. 

"It'll just involve the chief and deputy chief of the police department," he said.

The court will convene again on count one on June 11.