The Reporter covers Miller, Morgan and Camden County in Central Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks and is published once per week on Wednesdays.


Published July 11, 2018

Lawyer: Both sides need to pay reporter’s legal fees

CAMDEN COUNTY - The attorney for Lake Sun reporter Joyce Miller has filed a request with the court asking the judge to make both sides pay her fees.

Attorney Jean Maneke filed a document with the court last week pointing the finger at the county commissioners for “bad acts” they made in court regarding Miller and that she supports the commissioners’ request that Rowland Todd (Plaintiff) pay their fees (and at least some of hers).

The filing mainly addresses the commissioners (Defendants) and their actions in regards to Miller (Movant).

“The Movant supports Defendants’ Motion for Attorneys’ Fees against Plaintiff but also believes it has a right to relief from a prior court order, and its attorneys’ fees awarded, due to the underlying frivolous and unreasonable bad acts of the Defendants in claims made before this Court in the subpoenaing of the Third Party Joyce Miller and taking her deposition. Defendants deposed the Plaintiff on February 12, 2018, prior to taking the deposition of this Movant. As a result of that deposition, Defendants had in their possession the knowledge that the Plaintiff said he ‘would have shared this letter through a Sunshine request,’ and that the letter was published in the Lake Sun Leader on its online website subsequently in its coverage of this litigation. There was no evidence in the deposition testimony of the Plaintiff that Movant or her employer were in any way involved in the underlying facts or actions upon which Plaintiff’s cause of action was based. Although there is mention in the Statement of Facts provided by Defendants in connection with their Motion for Summary Judgment of certain articles published in the Lake Sun Leader, none of those cited articles, or acts by this Journalist, are relied upon by the Defendants in their argument that they are entitled to summary judgment in this matter. The motion is based solely on the acts of the Plaintiff, a letter he wrote to the Defendants and his performance of his duties, which included being custodian of open records for that county office.

“It was clear from Plaintiff’s deposition that Movant’s only involvement with Plaintiff was that he was her contact point in her work as a journalist covering county government when a records request was involved. The Defendants had no evidence in their possession suggesting Third-Party journalist Joyce Miller or her employer were colluding or acting in concert with the Plaintiff. Instead, these Defendants, claiming they might find some evidence of interactions, clearly intended to use this ‘fishing expedition’ as a means of intimidating the Movant in her coverage of this ongoing story of high interest to the newspaper’s readers, and to hinder her ability to rightfully seek access to public records from the custodian of records for the county during the course of this trial.

“These actions resulted in this Court issuing an improper order which necessitated this Third-Party to appear and hire counsel to defend a deposition, as well as file a number of pleadings before this Court, unnecessarily.”

She then cites multiple cases in support of her request and also continued with her accusation that the commission was on a “fishing expedition.”

“Just as the court in the Wacker case, (Wacker v. Gehl Co., 157 F.R.D. 58, 58 [W.D.Mo.,1994]) held that there was no factual information that the requested discovery would lead to discoverable evidence, so it is now clearly evident that the Defendants had no factual information at all that this deposition of journalist Miller would lead to discoverable evidence. They never offered this Court a set of the direct and cross-questions they sought to ask the journalist. Instead, they simply badgered her for more than five hours in an effort to trap her into saying something they could use to attempt to tie her and her newspaper to the claim of the Plaintiff, which they knew even at that time was without a foundation. Such an abuse of this judicial system should not go unpunished.”

Since the judges ruling in the case, Maneke claims that Miller has been forced into an awkward position.

“Now, due to the Court’s granting of summary judgment and Defendant’s motion for attorney’s fees, the Third-Party finds herself in the absurd position of being subject to sanctions for asserting a privilege she believes she was entitled to assert in a deposition being taken in a lawsuit the party seeking sanctions claims was frivolous enough to justify an award of attorney’s fees. Without relief from the Court, the Third-party is left without the ability to challenge the Court’s Order requiring her deposition, is still potentially subject to sanctions in future cases for asserting a privilege she believes is entitled to assert and has spent substantial legal fees defending her journalistic rights, while the party that is substantially the cause of her predicament claims it is entitled to attorney’s fees for being subjected to frivolous litigation. Such an outcome hardly seems just.”

Though the filings by Maneke mainly point to the commissioners, if Todd did file a “Frivolous, Unreasonable and Groundless” suit, a claim that has not been decided in court yet, then he is also partly responsible for Maneke’s attorney fees.

“Further, Movant respectfully asks this Court to enter judgment assessing attorneys fees of this party in bringing and arguing its Motion to Quash Subpoena, and in defending Movant’s deposition, against Plaintiff and Defendant as the Court deems just and proper, or such other and further relief as this Court believes will allow this appeal by the Third Party to proceed under federal rules of procedure.”

The judge has not ruled on this or the request by the commissioners at press time.

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