Hawley fights subpoena: ‘The judicial process does not exist to harass public servants’

Josh Hawley defeats incumbent Claire McCaskill in Missouri Senate race

Republican attorney general Josh Hawley defeated incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill in the Missouri Senate race.
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Republican attorney general Josh Hawley defeated incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill in the Missouri Senate race.

Lawyers for Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley have asked a Cole County judge to quash a subpoena that would require him to answer questions under oath about allegations he violated open records law during his time as the state’s attorney general.

The lawyers argued that Elad Gross, the former assistant attorney general of Missouri who requested the subpoena, was abusing the legal process “to transform the courts into political weapons.” Gross has declared he’s running for Missouri attorney general in 2020 as a Democrat.

“The judicial process does not exist to harass public servants or further the political ambitions of litigants,” Hawley’s lawyers wrote in a motion to quash the subpoena and request a court order barring Gross making any further requests of the senator.

They accused Gross of issuing the subpoena “in a transparent attempt to bolster his own political prospects and harm the Senator.”

The subpoena would require Hawley, a freshman GOP senator, to give depositions under oath and provide records related to his enforcement of open records laws as attorney general. Open records laws, also known as Sunshine Laws, are intended to guarantee public access to government records, and Missouri’s attorney general is tasked with enforcing them.

Hawley’s lawyers noted that he subpoena was approved by the clerk of the court, but not by any judge, and was never properly served — the subpoena was delivered to a member of Hawley’s staff, they wrote, and never to him personally.

But even if the subpoena had been properly served, the lawyers contend, Gross has offered no basis to believe the senator has relevant evidence to provide. Hawley isn’t a party to the lawsuit, which Gross filed against Missouri’s Republican Gov. Mike Parson in 2017.

“This Court cannot and should not establish a rule whereby sitting U.S. Senators are hauled into the deposition room at the whim of any politically ambitious litigant,” they wrote.

Two of the attorneys who signed the motion on behalf of Hawley are Missouri-based lawyers from the firm Husch Blackwell. Three others listed on the document are from Cooper & Kirk, a high-profile D.C. law firm that represented Hawley in 2016 for free as Hawley fought an open records lawsuit during his campaign for attorney general. That lawsuit was dismissed.

Hawley’s Senate campaign later hired Cooper & Kirk to screen Hawley’s emails from his time as a law professor at University of Missouri, prior to their public release through Missouri’s open records laws.

Gross said he’s working on delivering the subpoena directly to Hawley soon. He rejected the argument that the subpoena was a political stunt, and noted the lawsuit predates his own run for office.

“They keep calling me a Democratic operative but I’m doing this one my own,” Gross said. “The Democratic party aren’t doing anything so I’ve never received money from them.”

Gross said he’s treated Hawley like any other witness.

“I called his office, I left messages ... but he refused to respond to me. I gave him a lot of courtesy” Gross said. “He has become a witness who doesn’t want to cooperate, and it seems more and more like he’s trying to hide something.”

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Lindsay Wise is an investigative reporter for McClatchy’s Washington Bureau. Previously, Lindsay worked for six years as the Washington correspondent for McClatchy’s Kansas City Star. Before joining McClatchy in 2012, she worked as a reporter at the Houston Chronicle, where she specialized in coverage of veterans and military issues as well as the city’s Arab and Muslim communities.
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