Former Blunt attorney denied unemployment benefits

Saturday, January 12, 2008 | 5:30 p.m. CST; updated 9:56 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — An attorney suing Gov. Matt Blunt on allegations he was wrongfully fired was denied unemployment benefits after it was determined that he had been dismissed for misconduct.

Blunt’s office cites the decision by the state Division of Employment Security as proof that Scott Eckersley’s legal claims are unfounded. But Eckersley says Blunt’s office is drawing a misleading conclusion.

Eckersley’s lawsuit claims he was fired in retaliation for raising concerns that Blunt’s office was violating the Sunshine Law by deleting e-mails. which Blunt has consistently denied.

An Employment Security Division document outlining Eckersley’s denial of jobless benefits cites that he “was discharged because he abused the use of state resources.”

Specifically, “he used office resources during business hours to conduct and promote a private business,” states the document, dated Nov. 1.

The governor’s office provided a copy of the document Saturday to The Associated Press in response to an open-records request.

Blunt’s office referred to the document for the first time Friday in a written statement defending Eckersley’s firing and criticizing his lawsuit as a “political attack” without merit.

“This is his second bite at the litigation apple,” said the statement by Blunt’s legal counsel, Lowell Pearson. “He already lost once.”

Eckersley said Saturday that he had applied for jobless benefits using a voice-automated telephone system. He never presented a case — neither in writing nor in person — to try to debunk the governor’s office version of why he was fired with his own explanations, Eckersley said.

“To present this as my second bite at the litigation apple is pretty misleading,” said Eckersley, later adding: “It certainly is misleading to present it as an independent party had listened to both sides and made a determination.”

The document states that Eckersley had until Dec. 3 to appeal his denial of jobless benefits. Eckersley said he chose not to do so because he was preoccupied with other concerns.

Blunt’s former chief of staff, Ed Martin, fired Eckersley on Sept. 28, but little was known about the reasons until about a month later. As Eckersley prepared to go public with his allegations, Blunt’s administration sent a stack of documents to the AP and other media casting Eckersley in a negative light.

The documents included suggestions that Eckersley had used a “group sex Web site,” been questioned about drugs, was frequently tardy, had poor job performance and had done work from his state office for his father’s private health care business.

Eckersley has acknowledged doing work for his father’s business, but he says he had approval from a supervisor in Blunt’s office and insists the work was minimal. He has vigorously denied the other assertions.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday by Eckersley claims he was defamed by Blunt’s administration. It also seeks an unspecified amount of money on claims he was wrongfully fired after blowing the whistle on the e-mail destruction. The suit claims top Blunt aides directed the e-mails to be deleted to avoid complying with open-records request from the media and public.

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