Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley's office has determined that an agreement between former Gov. Eric Greitens and a prosecutor should be public without redactions.
The agreement between Greitens and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner resulted in the dismissal of a felony computer-tampering charge against Greitens, a Republican who was elected governor of Missouri in 2016.
The Kansas City Star asked Gardner's office to turn over the unredacted agreement Tuesday, in light of the attorney general's opinion, but has not yet received it.
"We are evaluating our legal options right now," said Gardner's spokeswoman, Susan Ryan.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
Greitens offered to resign as part of the deal with Gardner, which became official when he stepped down on Friday. He also agreed to release Gardner, her office and any consultants from any civil liability and waive "any claim to court costs not already taxed."
But copies of the agreement that were released to the public included two provisions that were entirely blacked out.
Mark Johnson, an attorney with the Dentons law firm in Kansas City, called the redactions "ridiculous."
"They did it in a very ham-handed fashion, taking a Magic Marker and blacking it out," Johnson said.
Not only ridiculous because of the way they blacked it out, Johnson said, but also the reason.
"It's not just a matter of open records — it is a government record — but it's also a court filing," Johnson said. "All court filings are to be public unless a judge has found for good reason that it should be filed under seal."
There was no judicial order calling for redactions in the agreement.
Gardner had requested a legal opinion from Hawley's office Monday afternoon after receiving Missouri Sunshine Law requests from several media outlets, including The Star, demanding to see the full agreement without redactions.
Gardner's office said on Monday that it supported releasing the full version of the agreement, but Greitens' legal team strongly objected.
"Due to the unique circumstances of the case, we have requested a formal opinion from the Attorney General on the issue," said James Michaels, assistant circuit attorney, in an email to The Star on Monday.
Michaels stated in his request for an opinion from Hawley that the secret provisions in the agreement had not been sealed by any formal court order.
John Sauer, first assistant to the attorney general and Missouri’s Solicitor General, wrote the opinion in a letter addressed to Gardner, dated Tuesday.
Sauer wrote that under Missouri law, a settlement agreement is a type of contract, and quotes from case law to point out that "contracts entered into by governmental entities are precisely the type of records the Sunshine Law seeks to provide to the public."
The agreement, Sauer said, "plainly involves the settlement of 'legal actions, causes of action or litigation involving a public governmental body' " or an agent representing its interests or acting on its behalf.
He did provide one caveat, saying that the agreement constitutes an open record under the Sunshine Law "unless a court has ordered the (agreement) to be closed upon 'a written finding' by a judge that the negative consequences of releasing it clearly outweighs the public policy consequences.
"Given the circumstances surrounding this matter, it is unlikely that any interests would clearly outweigh the public's strong interest in knowing the terms of the settlement agreement here," Sauer wrote.
Greitens legal team did not immediately comment on the matter.
The Star's Bryan Lowry contributed to this report.