Blunt sued by former staff attorney

Wednesday, January 9, 2008 | 6:11 p.m. CST; updated 2:01 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Matt Blunt was sued Wednesday by a former staff attorney who claims he was fired and defamed in retaliation for pointing out that Blunt's administration was destroying e-mails in violation of Missouri's open-records law.

The lawsuit by former Blunt attorney Scott Eckersley alleges that Blunt's top aides ordered staff to delete e-mails to avoid having to provide information to the media and public under Missouri's Sunshine Law.

Eckersley's lawsuit also claims Blunt's staff sought to cover up their e-mail deletions by trying to order backup computer files to be destroyed. Then after Eckersley was fired, the lawsuit claims, Blunt's staff provided the media with documents intended to smear his reputation.

"This suit is about clearing my name," Eckersley said. "I think clearing my name has two parts: my personal name and my professional name. And I think both of them they tried to attack."

Blunt's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.

Eckersley was fired in late September and went public with his allegations about a month later — at the same as Blunt's administration provided an unsolicited stack of documents to The Associated Press and other media defending Eckersley's firing and casting in him in a bad light.

Blunt's administration claimed at the time that Eckersley was fired for doing a shoddy job, tardiness, lying and using his state computer for private business. The media packet also claimed Eckersley had registered for what Blunt's administration described as a "group sex Internet site" and noted that Blunt's chief of staff had questioned whether Eckersley used illegal drugs.

Eckersley's lawsuit asserts that the information about group sex and drug use "was patently false," and that Blunt's administration knew that.

The lawsuit filed in Jackson County Circuit Court names Blunt; his former Chief of Staff Ed Martin; former General Counsel Henry Herschel; Blunt communications director Rich Chrismer; and Rich AuBuchon, the deputy director and chief legal counsel for Blunt's Office of Administration.

The lawsuit says that Herschel called a meeting of all department general counsels in August 2007 after the media reported "a negative story" about e-mails that Chrismer sent to the Missouri State Highway Patrol seeking to reshape its public characterization of an investigation into the 2005 Taum Sauk Reservoir collapse.

Herschel told attorneys that to avoid negative press, e-mails should be deleted to avoid having to turn them over in compliance with Sunshine Law requests, the lawsuit alleges. Around the same time, Martin also instructed governor's office staff to delete e-mails to ensure they did not have to be provided under public records requests, the lawsuit says.

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