The city of Raytown has been ordered to pay $42,000 in legal fees after a judge ruled the city violated the Missouri Sunshine Law when it denied a public records request about a fatal traffic wreck.
The 2016 crash had killed a 69-year-old woman, and the records sought by her family concerned the safety of the intersection where she died.
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge S. Margene Burnett said Raytown officials refused to provide the records as they sought to protect the city against a wrongful death lawsuit.
The city clerk had adopted a policy of refusing any documents to anyone who filed a claim against the city, the judge wrote, calling it a “knowing and purposeful violation of Missouri Sunshine Law.”
The city tried “to use the Sunshine Law as shield to hide behind rather than shed light on potentially inappropriate government activity,” Burnett said. “This secrecy is precisely why the Sunshine Law was enacted.”
A wrongful death lawsuit was filed against Raytown by the family of Cecile W. Leggio, who died in the New Year’s Eve crash at the intersection of 67th Street and Ralston Avenue.
The car Leggio was driving was struck by another vehicle when Leggio edged her car into the intersection, where the view of traffic was obstructed, according to the family’s attorney.
Leggio was taken to a hospital, where she later died. The other driver was treated for minor injuries.
Beginning in July 2017 the Leggio family, through its attorneys, made several public records requests to Raytown City Clerk Teresa Henry. The family asked for copies of accident reports, design records, traffic studies, safety complaints and other documents.
“At the outset of this case, our client was looking for answers from the city of Raytown,” said Chris Dandurand, an attorney for the family.
The city denied those requests.
“During the case, it became clear that the City of Raytown implemented a systematic policy to refuse the production of requested documents to any citizen if that citizen filed a notice of claim against the City, regardless of the nature of the documents requested,” he said.
Henry, the city clerk, did not respond to a request seeking comment Tuesday. Attorney Wesley Carrillo, who represented the city of Raytown, declined to comment, saying the city is appealing the ruling. The wrongful death lawsuit is ongoing.
The family said the intersection at 67th Street and Ralston Avenue was dangerous, and sought the records to show that.
There was no stop sign, speed limit signage or other traffic control for eastbound or westbound traffic on 67th Street at Ralston Avenue.
A hill, foliage and other obstructions along 67th Street made visibility difficult for eastbound drivers. The city failed to make the intersection safe, Dandurand said.
In July 2018, a year after the family started requesting records, the judge ordered Raytown to search for and hand over design records, traffic records and diagnostic studies done at the intersection.
Burnett released more records after she reviewed them. She kept one record closed because it was directly related to the wreck, according to Dandurand, the family’s attorney. Dandurand said he was pleased with the outcome.
“The trial court determined that Raytown’s policy did not follow the Sunshine Law,” he said. “I hope that our client’s selfless commitment, and the recent media attention to this case, will result in municipalities taking a closer look at their open records policies.”