JEFFERSON CITY – A Missouri judge is allowing a lawsuit over use of a message-deleting app by Gov. Eric Greitens' office to move forward, despite efforts by Greitens' attorneys to get the case tossed out.
Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem on Monday ruled that claims that Greitens' office violated the Sunshine Law, which requires public access to certain government records, can proceed.
But he dismissed allegations that there were violations of state records-retention laws, which outline how long and which documents must be kept. Beetem ruled that private citizens can't bring claims of records-retention violations to court.
At issue is a lawsuit over a December open-records request by a St. Louis attorney for records related to use of the Confide app by top staff in the Republican governor's office. The app automatically deletes messages after they are read and prevents recipients from saving, forwarding, printing or taking screenshots of messages. The feature sparked concern among some government-transparency advocates.
Greitens' attorneys had asked Beetem to throw out the entire lawsuit, in part arguing that the governor's office complied with open-records laws but that in several cases there were no records to provide because of the nature of the app.
"The argument that the use of the Confide app excuses compliance because nothing is retained holds less water than a policy of using disappearing ink for all official documents," Beetem wrote. "While there seems to be little dispute that records were made, the issue revolves around were they records which should have been retained and/or are retained in the custody of third parties which is adequately pleaded?"
Mark Pedroli, who is representing the St. Louis attorney who sued, said having the records-law claims dismissed doesn't set back the case. He praised the ruling and said it's "a good day for residents of Missouri, sunshine proponents and sunshine proponents throughout the nation."
Greitens' attorney Bob Thompson on Tuesday said he's pleased that the case has been narrowed and said he's "hopeful and confident" that the judge will rule in the governor's favor on the remainder of the case once he hears additional facts.