Mini Law School: Missouri Sunshine Law and Access to the Courts under the First Amendment

Each year, The Missouri Bar collaborates with law schools and legal professionals from across the state to deliver Mini Law School for the Public courses. During these sessions, attendees can hear in-depth discussions about various law-related topics. This Public Podcast Series is an opportunity to hear recordings from the 2015 sessions.

Missouri’s Sunshine Law mirrors the Federal Freedom of Information Act and is overseen by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, which enforces compliance and fields complaints. Typically, public agencies will follow the law and hand over public records to those who file a sunshine request. But what happens when they don’t? Why do some agencies charge fees for open records and others don’t? And possibly more importantly, what do they have to hide?

Benjamin Lipman, a Washington University Law School graduate, is a media law attorney and commercial litigator with Lewis Rice LLC and represents clients – most of them from the media – in their quest for the truth. One judge said Lipman “wields the First Amendment with reckless abandon.” It’s with that passion and experience that he heads up this lecture for the SLU Mini Law School forum.

He begins with access to the courts, and access to the government, noting that the Sunshine Law is what we use to get access to government documents, and it applies only to government access, not private information or information from corporations. “In the state of Missouri,” Lipman says, “the Sunshine Law is not the only way to get access to government information, but it is the most significant one.”

Lipman discerns what defines public records, bodies and meetings – both open and closed. Who has access? How long are records required to be kept by government agencies? What are the limitations on sensitive information like autopsy reports? When can certain legal exemptions apply?

“The Sunshine Law applies to all of us,” Lipman says. “Any human being who walks into Missouri gets the benefits of the Missouri Sunshine Law … not all states are like that.”

Lipman’s full talk is divided into two recordings, found below.

Part one:

Part two:

Stay tuned as the entire series of podcasts is posted.

Interested in attending an in-person discussion? 2016 Mini Law School in St. Louis courses begin March 23. Click here for a full schedule of speakers and information on how to register.

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