COURTESY OF ELAD GROSS
Attorney Elad Gross.
In September, attorney Elad Gross sued the city of St. Louis, alleging wide-ranging violations of the state’s Sunshine law. Last week, the city slapped back at Gross
— filing a counterclaim that seeks $25,000 in damages.
Gross calls the counterclaim "pretty unnerving."
"The city of St. Louis is now willing to sue its citizens who dare to ask that the government follow our basic public transparency laws," he tells the RFT
. "It's pretty wild to wake up on Thanksgiving and see that."
Gross' initial lawsuit
stemmed from what he said was a year-long delay in accessing records relevant to a potential lawsuit he was researching on behalf of a man injured while in the City Justice Center. A St. Louis-based lawyer focused on government transparency, Gross ran for state attorney general in 2020’s Democratic primary. Prior to suing the city, Gross was involved in numerous transparency lawsuits against state officials.
In their filing, lawyers with the City Counselor's office called Gross' suit a “transparent publicity stunt — an opportunity for self promotion in service of Gross’ political ambitions." They accuse him of weaponizing the Sunshine Law and abusing the court system.
The city's counterclaim includes numerous jabs at what it calls Gross' "self-promotion, at all costs," calling him "a self-styled 'Sunshine Law Defender,' 'Missouri Lawman,' and 'government transparency attorney'...Along with other remnants of Gross’ unsuccessful 2020 statewide political campaign, Gross maintains a website to trumpet his various policy views and to promote himself and his political aspirations…[the] website doubles as an advertisement for Gross’ legal services."
Gross says it's "scary to think about" the city using his history of being involved in politics as a way to discredit his lawsuit. He says the city is sending a message that “citizens shouldn't ask us for records. Citizens shouldn't file lawsuits against their government."
"Other folks have done some similar things," he says. "When I first had a lawsuit involving records with the Greitens administration, Eric Greitens' attorney called me names. Josh Hawley, Eric Schmitt, Mike Parson, all these folks have done similar things. I guess I really wasn't expecting the city to be like them and be so resistant to transparency."
One section of the city's counterclaim, titled "Gross' Media Campaign," highlights Gross' courting of media coverage for his lawsuit. The counterclaim cites Gross giving reporters advance notice about his impending lawsuit as evidence that it was a "publicity stunt."
Attorneys for the city cite media coverage from numerous local outlets, including the Riverfront Times
. The city's filing makes special mention that the RFT
story "featured a photograph of Gross smiling in a City park." (The filing doesn’t mention the image is a file photo the paper first published in 2019.)
Gross says, "I was speaking to reporters before filing the lawsuit because they were complaining of the same thing I was encountering, which, until then, I didn’t realize was widespread."
The very end of the city's counterclaim states they are seeking "compensatory and punitive damages" from Gross of $25,000.
Gross says it may not have been proper for the city to claim $25,000 in damages, saying, "They couldn’t even follow the law in filing their lawsuit. They included a punitive damages request in their initial filing, which is not allowed under Missouri law without special permission from the judge."
A statute on the Missouri books
regarding civil procedure states, "No initial pleading in a civil action shall contain a claim for a punitive damage award."
Gross says, "I'm not even sure that this lawsuit itself, the way it's written, is a legitimate one right now, but obviously, that has to go to the court to be determined."
reached out to the City Counselor's Office for information on whether the statute applies to its counterclaim. We will update the story when we hear back.
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