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Missouri Rep. Justin Hicks suing GOP candidate over court record disclosure

Rep. Justin Hicks, R-Lake St. Louis, laughs while speaking to colleagues on Friday, May 12, 2023, during the last day of the legislative session in Jefferson City, Mo.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Rep. Justin Hicks, R-Lake St. Louis, laughs while speaking to colleagues last May during the end of the legislative session in Jefferson City.

A Republican running for the Missouri House says he’s being sued by state Rep. Justin Hicks, the lawmaker he’s hoping to replace, for publishing information on a campaign website about a 2010 order of protection issued when a woman accused Hicks of choking her.

Hicks, R-Lake St. Louis, is leaving the legislature to run for Congress.

The lawsuit is sealed from public view on Casenet by a court order. Max Calfo, who filed to run for Hick’s legislative seat, told The Independent that the suit accuses him of “public disclosure of private facts.”

Lindi Williford, Calfo’s campaign treasurer, says she has also been named in the lawsuit.

On the website, along with an image of the 2010 court order, Calfo accuses Hicks of using his power as a legislator to write a new law that hides information in court cases, including birth dates of parties to a case, that has generally been public in the past.

Hicks wrote the law, Calfo said, to protect his own record from disclosure.

“The only conceivable reason that you’d want to hide birth dates is if you want to try to prevent the verification of court documents,” Calfo said.

Williford, who said she is a volunteer and had no role in creating or publishing the online material, doesn’t understand why Hicks included her in the case.

“I’m a busy mom,” she said. “I have four kids. I have a baby. I’m very involved in my school district and community. I don’t have time for a legislator to sue me and cause this kind of grief for my family.”

They have filed motions to unseal the documents and dismiss the lawsuit, Calfo and Williford said.

Justin Mulligan, an attorney representing Calfo and Williford, said he cannot talk about the lawsuit or disclose any filings.

Hicks declined several requests from The Independent to discuss the lawsuit and the materials published by Calfo.

On Tuesday, Hicks filed for the Republican nomination in the 3rd Congressional District. He became the eighth candidate to file in the GOP-dominated district since incumbent U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer announced his retirement in January.

The other Republican candidates in the race are former state Sen. Kurt Schaefer of Columbia; former state Sen. Bob Onder of Lake St. Louis; current state Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman of Arnold; Arnie C. Dienoff of O’Fallon, a self-styled public advocate; Chad Bicknell of Arnold, who unsuccessfully ran for a state House seat in 2020; Kyle Bone of DeSoto, who came in third in a state House primary in 2018; and Brandon Wilkinson of Fenton, who is making his first bid for public office.

Calfo has been planning a bid for Hicks’s seat in western St. Charles County’s 108th House District for many months, forming a campaign committee in September. Anticipating he would be in a primary against Hicks, he published a page of negative information about Hicks as part of his campaign website.

The page links to images of a 2010 order of protection barring Hicks from contact with a woman who accused him of grabbing her by the neck and choking her.

Hicks’s identity was verified using his birthdate, Calfo said.

The Missouri State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri statehouse last year in Jefferson City. A Republican running for the Missouri House says he’s being sued by state Rep. Justin Hicks, the lawmaker he’s hoping to replace, for publishing information on a campaign website about a 2010 order of protection issued when a woman accused Hicks of choking her.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch last year reported on Calfo’s website and the woman who filed for the order of protection confirmed the person named on the order is Hicks.

Hicks, who is 31, was 17 at the time. Under Missouri law in 2010, a 17-year-old was treated as an adult by the courts. The age has since been raised to 18.

The order of protection expired on June 15, 2011.

The 2010 case is now sealed and does not appear on Casenet, the state’s online court records system. Calfo said Hicks asked in 2021 for records of the case to be hidden, telling the court it was to help his legal career.

At the time, Calfo said, Hicks was already planning a bid for the Missouri House.

“These documents never should have been sealed to begin with,” Calfo said. “If you are open with a judge and you say I want these sealed for my political advantage, there’s no way they will do that.”

Calfo’s also challenges Hicks’ statements that he has engaged in combat. His campaign website for his House race states he is “a combat veteran.” Calfo’s website has a military service record that shows Hicks was deployed overseas for a 10-month posting to the United Arab Emirates, technically a combat zone, when he held the rank of Human Resources Specialist.

While she says she had no role in posting the materials on Calfo’s website, Williford said Hicks’ life is open to scrutiny because he is a public official and candidate for higher office..

“As a public figure, his entire life needs to be public, all the things he’s done whether he wants those in the public eye or not,” she said.

The new law barring the courts from disclosing personal information expanded a 2009 law intended to protect the identity of minors and others involved in custody and support cases. It bars the courts from allowing the public to see “the full date of birth of any party” along with hiding all personal information about victims and witnesses in all court cases.

Hicks introduced a version of the law as a bill and the version that became law as an amendment to a much larger bill dealing with court functions. His bill passed a committee with a unanimous vote and the amendment passed the House on a voice vote.

Legal analysts have reported that because of the new law, Missouri hides more court information from the public than any other state and is the “state of unknown persons” because of the way courts must identify parties in documents.

On July 1, all newly filed court documents became available to the public remotely via Casenet. Previously, only lawyers and others whose work required online access could view filings. The public had access at terminals in courthouses and a handful of other locations.

With the change and the new law, the few documents that had been generally available online – such as final judgments in lawsuits – became hidden to prevent inadvertent disclosure.

“These documents were on Casenet for years and, as my lawyer says, you can’t unring a bell,” Calfo said. “You can’t make what is a public fact a private fact. You can’t go back in time and do that.”

This story was published by The Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom.

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and state legislature as the Deputy Editor at The Missouri Independent.