Independence Examiner, Friday 01/18/02

Open records case nears conclusion

By Darla McFarland
The Examiner

   Closing arguments are expected today in the civil lawsuit alleging Sunshine Law violations at the Jackson County Office of Human Relations and Citizen Complaints.

   Circuit Court Judge Thomas Clark has said he will announce his decision quickly following closing arguments, probably late this afternoon.

   OHRCC director Deborah Tircuit was re-called to the stand Thursday to answer more questions about the storage and release of records in her office.

   One document, in particular, is at issue: a transcript of a telephone conversation between plaintiff Karen Turner and a Jackson County Sheriff's deputy. Tircuit testified that the transcript was stored in Turner's complaint file, to which the plaintiff had free access.

   Turner and co-plaintiff Robert WitbolsFeugen said they asked for the transcript repeatedly following Turner's complaint hearing in May 1999. They testified that the transcript was never supplied to them and did not appear in the complaint file until December 1999.

   Judge Clark questioned Tircuit directly about the Turner file and how it was organized. Tircuit said that the file grew significantly after the May 1999 hearing and that multiple folders were needed to organize the material.

   The lawsuit stems from a complaint that Turner filed with OHRCC in 1998 against the Sheriff's Department. She believed that a Sheriff's deputy improperly revealed her daughter's name to another source in a murder investigation. As a result, she said, her daughter was threatened, harassed and left the country in fear.

   The complaint reached a hearing before the commission of OHRCC in May 1999. The commission ultimately decided that Turner's complaint was without merit.

   Turner and WitbolsFeugen allege that the commission violated the Missouri Sunshine Law by improperly closing two meetings, including a July 29, 1999, session where they deliberated her case. Their suit also charges that the OHRCC violated open records rules by not releasing requested documents in a timely manner.

   The suit asks the court to overturn the commission's ruling in Turner's complaint and to fine Tircuit and the commission members for Sunshine violations.

To reach Darla McFarland e-mail or call her at 816-350-6321.

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