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March 23, 2016

State judge in Missouri decides state DOC purposely violated state law to avoid execution drug disclosure

As reported in this local article, headlined "Missouri Corrections Department Violated Sunshine Law In Execution Case, Judge Rules," a state judge reached some sharp conclusions about what the state DOC failed to show concerning execution drugs in the Show Me state. Here are the details:

The Missouri Department of Corrections purposely violated the state’s Sunshine Law when it refused to turn over records revealing the suppliers of lethal injection drugs for executions, a state court judge ruled late Monday. Cole County Circuit Judge Jon E. Beetem’s decision came in three parallel cases, including one brought by five news organizations: The Kansas City Star, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Springfield News-Leader, The Guardian and the Associated Press.

Beetem last July ordered the DOC to disclose the names of the pharmacies from which it buys lethal injection drugs. But the issue remained moot while he reviewed the records in question to see if they needed to be redacted in order to protect the identities of members of the execution team.

On Monday, Beetem ruled that while an exemption in the Sunshine Law protects the identities of the doctor and nurse who are present during the execution as well as non-medical personnel who assist with the execution and are also present, it does not protect the identity of the pharmacists who supply the execution drugs. He ordered the DOC to produce those records without redactions. He also ordered the DOC to pay the plaintiffs’ costs and attorneys’ fees. In the news organizations' case, that amounted to $73,335.

The state has already indicated it plans to appeal. The Department of Corrections did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Beetem's decision. "At this point, it has cost the state of Missouri more than $100,000 to assert a frivolous position," said Kansas City attorney Bernard Rhodes, who represented the news organizations. "At what point will the state realize that they're wrong and at what cost to the taxpayers will it take before the state realizes they are wrong?"

The other lawsuits challenging officials' refusal to provide information about the state's execution protocols were filed by former Missouri legislator Joan Bray, a death penalty opponent, and by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the American Civil Liberties Union and Christopher S. McDaniel, formerly of St. Louis Public Radio.

Missouri, like other states, has had difficulty finding lethal injection drugs after European and American drug makers began refusing to provide them. The state has resorted to using largely unregulated compounding pharmacies, often keeping the sources of the drugs secret. In their lawsuit, the five news organizations said that public disclosure of the source, quality and composition of the drugs “reduces the risk that improper, ineffective, or defectively prepared drugs are used; it allows public oversight of the types of drugs selected to cause death and qualifications of those manufacturing the chosen drugs; and it promotes the proper functioning of everyone involved in the execution process.”

March 23, 2016 at 08:45 AM | Permalink


So what?

Posted by: federalist | Mar 23, 2016 9:30:46 AM

The people of the state of Missouri passed a law that helped to open the government to oversight.

The state might have violated it. This is not surprising given their self-interest and the added burdens such laws put on the actors.

People, including conservatives who voice their distrust of government power (if selectively), should appreciate putting the state to the test here. It promotes democracy and good government in the long run. It will in some other case show the state doing something wrong while furthering ends those against the death penalty might prefer. Anyway, the state can still execute here as courts still can hold trials in open court.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 23, 2016 11:54:41 AM

The government acting lawlessly earns a "so what?" from federalist. Why am I not surprised?

Posted by: memyself | Mar 23, 2016 12:01:46 PM

So a handpicked judge decided to get some headlines--tell me when the Missouri Supreme Court does something.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 24, 2016 10:46:51 AM

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