Missouri Broadcasters join lawsuit related to the redaction of court documents

For centuries, the courts have been the most open and transparent branch of government. Trials and hearings are conducted in public. In our legal tradition court files historically have been productive sources through which citizens, journalists, and academics could glean important information about public people, like politicians and business people, and their activities.

All that changed in Missouri in 2023, thanks to a provision quietly slipped into a larger bill just before the end of that year’s legislative session. This amendment requires attorneys and court personnel to redact from all pleadings, orders, judgments, and opinions the names and other identifying information of all witnesses and victims associated with a case. This sweeping requirement was never discussed in any committee meetings, nor was it ever debated on the floor of either chamber of the General Assembly. But when the bill passed and the governor signed it, the stealth statute became state law.

This week, two lawyers, one journalist, and the Missouri Broadcasters Association filed a lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court seeking to restore transparency to Missouri’s judiciary. The petition argues that the stealth statute violates both the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions. If this challenge succeeds, citizens and journalists alike will regain crucial insight into our state’s legal proceedings and those who participate in them.