In September, attorney Elad Gross sued the city of St. Louis for widespread violations of the state’s sunshine law. Last week, the city of Gross hit back — filing a countersuit seeking $25,000 in damages.
Gross calls the counterclaim “pretty annoying”.
“The City of St. Louis is now ready to sue its citizens who dare demand that the government obey our basic public transparency laws,” he says RFT. “It’s pretty wild to wake up on Thanksgiving and see that.”
Gross’ initial lawsuit resulted from what he said was a year-long delay in accessing records relevant to a potential lawsuit he was investigating on behalf of a man injured at the City Justice Center. Gross, a St. Louis-based attorney who focused on government transparency, ran for attorney general in the 2020 Democratic primary. Prior to the lawsuit against the city, Gross was involved in numerous transparency lawsuits against state officials.
In their filing, attorneys for the City Council Office described Gross’ lawsuit as a “transparent publicity stunt — an opportunity for self-expression in the service of Gross’s political ambitions.” They accuse him of using the Sunshine Law as a weapon and abusing the court system.
The city’s countersuit includes numerous taunts at what it calls “self-promotion at all costs,” calling Gross “a self-proclaimed ‘Sunshine Law Defender,’ ‘Missouri Lawman,’ and ‘Government Transparency Attorney’…along with other remnants of the Gross’ unsuccessful 2020 national political campaign, Gross maintains a website to disseminate his various political views and to promote himself and his political aspirations…[the] Website also serves as an advertisement for Gross’s legal services.”
Gross says it’s “scary to think” that the city is using his history of involvement in politics to discredit his lawsuit. He says the city is sending a message that “citizens shouldn’t ask us for records. Citizens should not file lawsuits against their government.”
“Other people have done similar things,” he says. “The first time I had a record-related legal dispute with the Greitens administration, Eric Greit’s attorney called me by name. Josh Hawley, Eric Schmidt, Mike Parson, all these people have done similar things. I think I really didn’t expect the city to be like them and be so resistant to transparency.”
A section of the city’s countersuit titled “Gross’s Media Campaign” highlights Gross’s soliciting media coverage of his lawsuit. The counterclaim cites that Gross gave reporters advance notice of his upcoming lawsuit as evidence that it was a “publicity stunt.”
City attorneys cite media coverage of numerous local outlets, including the Riverfront times. The city record specifically mentions that the RFT Story “featured a photo of Gross smiling in a city park.” (The filing doesn’t mention that the image is a file photo first published in 2019.)
Gross says, “I spoke to reporters before filing the lawsuit because they complained about the same thing I encountered that I didn’t know was widespread.”
At the very end of the city’s counterclaim, it says they are seeking “compensatory and punitive damages” from Gross of $25.00.
Gross says it may not have been right for the city to seek $25,000 in damages, saying, “They couldn’t even comply with the law in filing their lawsuit. They included a punitive damages claim in their original filing, which is not permitted under Missouri law without special approval from the judge.”
A statute in the Missouri books of civil procedure states, “No first brief in a civil action shall contain a claim for punitive damages.”
Gross says: “I’m not even sure that this lawsuit itself, as written, is legitimate at the moment, but of course that has to be decided in court.”
That RFT contacted the City Council Office for information on whether the law applies to his counterclaim. We will update the story when we get feedback.
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