Government & Politics

Court issues subpoena to Sen. Josh Hawley in lawsuit against Gov. Mike Parson

Sen. Josh Hawley was already facing questions about his handling of Missouri’s Sunshine Law as attorney general. Now, he might have to provide answers under oath.

The Cole County Circuit Court issued Hawley a subpoena related to his time as attorney general, but Hawley’s spokeswoman indicated the freshman GOP senator will seek to quash it.

The subpoena was issued late Monday night as a part of a lawsuit brought against Gov. Mike Parson’s office by St. Louis attorney Elad Gross, a Democratic candidate for Missouri attorney general in 2020.

Hawley’s spokeswoman Kelli Ford dismissed Gross’ effort to force Hawley to answer questions under oath as a campaign tactic.

“This is a political stunt by a political candidate. It’s unfortunate that Democrat operatives continue to misuse our courts of law for political purposes... it’s a frivolous request. He isn’t party to the lawsuit,” Ford said in an email.

In a follow-up email, Ford confirmed that Hawley would seek to quash the subpoena.

Gross had sought records detailing communication between the governor’s office and A New Missouri, a political nonprofit set up to advance former Gov. Eric Greitens’ agenda, and other groups. Parson’s office told Gross the records would cost $3,600 and take six months to produce, according a news release from Gross.

“At the time of Gross’s Sunshine Request, Hawley was Missouri’s Attorney General, and he was in charge of enforcing Missouri’s Sunshine Law. Despite Gross referring the case to his office, Hawley did not take action against the governor,” Gross said in a news release Tuesday. “Instead, he decided to represent the governor against Gross.”

Gross, who was briefly a candidate for secretary of state in 2016 and announced his candidacy for attorney general three months ago, dismissed the accusation that his lawsuit is a political stunt.

“These folks want to pass the blame on, that’s fine,” Gross said. “I’ve been involved in investigating dark money since 2017, before I ever had a thought of running. The reason I’m running is because these folks aren’t doing their jobs, and it’s become apparent over the last year and a half.”

Hawley has 10 days to respond, Gross said, and could object to the subpoena once he is served. Gross served as an assistant attorney general under Democrat Chris Koster and is suing Greitens’ nonprofit in a related case.

The subpoena requires Hawley to give depositions and provide records related to the enforcement of the Sunshine Law.

Mark Johnson, a Kansas City attorney who specializes in First Amendment law, said that Hawley would risk being in contempt of court if he ignored the subpoena, but that he’ll have the right to seek to quash it or seek modifications to the scope of Gross’ request.

The subpoena comes at a time when Hawley, a freshman GOP senator, is already facing major scrutiny for his former office’s handling of the law, which is intended to ensure public access to government records.

Hawley’s office told the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2017 that there were no records of emails between his official staff and his political consultants ahead of his campaign to unseat Democrat Claire McCaskill.

But The Kansas City Star later revealed their existence and the attorney general’s office was forced to produce them in response to an investigation by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office.

A spokesman for Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who replaced Hawley in January and is now in charge of enforcing the Sunshine Law said via email that “per office policy, we don’t comment on ongoing litigation, and we have nothing further to add at this time.”

Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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Jason Hancock is The Star’s lead political reporter, providing coverage of government and politics on both sides of the state line. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he has written about politics for more than a decade for news organizations across the Midwest.