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Nixon subpoenaed in gun permit suit; new judge assigned

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

By SAMANTHA RINEHART

SEMO News Service

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- A subpoena has been issued to Gov. Jay Nixon to testify in a lawsuit challenging the Missouri Department of Revenue's controversial storing and sharing of information on concealed-carry weapons permit holders, according to Stoddard County Prosecuting Attorney Russ Oliver.

Oliver, who represents plaintiff Eric Griffin in the lawsuit, stood next to Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, at a public forum attended by about 30 people Monday afternoon on the steps of the Common Pleas Courthouse in Cape Girardeau.

Following the recusal of Presiding Judge robert Mayer last week, the Supreme Court had to appoint a replacement.

The case has been assigned to Judge Scott Thomsen out of Bollinger County.

No hearing date has been set under Thomsen at this time.

The lawsuit was filed by Griffin of Advance, Mo., after a trip to the license bureau, during which he was told his personal documents, such as his Social Security number and concealed-carry permit, would have to be scanned by the license office.

The decision to ask for testimony from the state's highest-ranking executive was made after months of receiving "evasive answers" from government officials, Oliver said.

"This subpoena is not being issued to harass or vex the governor," he said. "We just want the truth."

According to Oliver, Nixon has been asked to appear for a deposition on May 3 at the Stoddard County courthouse to give sworn testimony.

"We just want to know ... what discussions he had, what did he know beforehand, what did he authorize?" Oliver said.

Oliver said the sharing of private information is not a "kerfuffle" as the governor previously called it, but a "major situation."

Jones said "no one is above the law," including the governor, and he is calling for answers, accountability and transparency from all parties involved.

When asked if he would consider holding the governor in contempt if the executive branch refuses to provide the requested information, Jones said "all options are on the table."

He also made a plea to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to appoint an independent committee to investigate the "scandal."

"When the current governor was attorney general, he held an investigation of his own to look into emails and law violations of the [Gov. Matt] Blunt administration," Jones said. "I would ask that Koster do the same as his predecessor to hold those responsible accountable for their actions."

According to Jones, Koster declined to comment on the controversy when questioned last week in Springfield, Mo.

Koster did address it Monday evening during an interview with the Southeast Missourian.

The issue of the revenue department storing and sharing permit holders' information is one Koster said he has discussed regularly with Jones, and several factors, including that there already are three ongoing investigations into the issue, are precluding him from launching his own investigation.

An investigation into the issue is ongoing in the House and Senate, and Auditor Tom Schweich's office is conducting a related audit of the revenue department.

Subpoena power is feasible in all of those investigations, Koster said. That aside, there is another factor, the attorney general said, that concerns him about the issue.

Koster characterized the situation as fluid: "A set of facts will develop in the morning, and then a press conference will be held, only to learn that the facts by that very afternoon are different than the facts that we thought were true in the morning," he said. "So the facts on this situation are moving around a great deal, still."

With the investigations ongoing and facts still being understood, Koster said his "sense at this juncture" is this:

"Let's develop a set of facts that we can rely upon, and then work to address policy decisions that protect the rights of Missourians and protect the rights of gun owners in this state," he said.

When Jones opened the forum to public questions, many expressed concern that not all identity-revealing documents, such as concealed-carry permits, obtained by the Department of Revenue had been destroyed.

One audience member asked Jones about the possibility of the state turning to Constitutional Carry, meaning concealed firearms would not be restricted by the law and could be carried without the requirement of a permit or license, to prevent the problem from arising again.

The speaker said he was "open to the idea." In response to a follow-up question, Jones' office emailed that "he is supportive of the idea of making Missouri a Constitutional Carry state."

Chuck Lange, treasurer for the recently formed SEMO 10 group, which advocates for citizen participation in government, said he and five other group members attended the forum to show support for what Jones and Oliver are doing. He said the members of SEMO 10 have been following this issue from the beginning and have made many efforts to share their concerns with local representatives.

"We've been making calls, sending emails and post cards and actually made a couple trips up to Jefferson City," Lange said. "We just hope there's no way Nixon or whoever is in charge of all this can sweep it under the rug like nothing ever happened."

Lange said he was very satisfied with the forum and is "cautiously optimistic" that the public's demand for answers will be met.

The Missouri Senate Appropriations Committee plans a public hearing on the issue from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday at the Cape Girardeau Public Library.

SEMO News Service writer, Erin Ragan, contributed to this report, along with Mike McCoy of The Daily Statesman.


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