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Chronology of Blunt e-mail controversy

Saturday, November 15, 2008 | 6:25 p.m. CST; updated 7:55 p.m. CST, Saturday, November 15, 2008

E-mail deletions in Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt's office gained prominence following assertions by former legal counsel Scott Eckersley that he was fired after raising concerns about the office's handling of e-mails. Here is a timeline of key events.

  • Aug. 10, 2007: Blunt Chief of Staff Ed Martin praises Eckersley in an e-mail: "Great work Scott. You are a great part of our team. I am not sure I have said 'thank you' to you enough — I tease you a lot because I like you — and please remind me of this Monday.''
  • Aug. 14, 2007: Blunt general counsel Henry Herschel tells Blunt's staff that he and Scott Eckersley will "meet with the various focus groups in the governor's office'' concerning Sunshine Law issues.
  • Sept. 4, 2007: Eckersley apologizes to Herschel for again arriving late. He issues a similar apology the next day after locking his keys and cell phone in his car.
  • Sept. 9, 2007: The Springfield News-Leader publishes a column saying it filed a Sunshine Law request for e-mails from the governor's office but was told the e-mails didn't exist. The newspaper, however, reported that it had obtained one of the e-mails from another source. At issue was an e-mail Martin sent to anti-abortion groups encouraging them to criticize Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon, who was running for governor.
  • Sept. 10, 2007: Blunt general counsel Herschel tells Martin, Eckersley and other staffers that under his interpretation of the state public records law, "general records or e-mails of government'' — as opposed to communication between members of a public body — are exempt from disclosure.
  • Sept. 10, 2007: Eckersley notes in an e-mail to Office of Administration deputy legal counsel Frank Jung that Herschel "is having me go through recent Sunshine cases to update our office policy and make sure we are on top ... of stuff.''
  • Sept. 13, 2007: Blunt communications director Rich Chrismer tells the St. Louis Post Dispatch: "There is no statute or case that requires the state to retain individual e-mails as a public record. However, even though they are not a public record, if we have e-mails that are relevant to a Sunshine request, we always provide them in compliance with the law.''
  • Sept. 14, 2007: Eckersley advises several members of the governor's office staff that reporters should be told e-mails can be public records that must be retained.
  • Sept. 18, 2007: Eckersley oversleeps and is again late for work. He asks a colleague if Herschel "could even fire me.''
  • Sept. 18, 2007: Jonathan Bunch, a former Blunt speech writer, urges Eckersley to "find a way to get someone to pay attention to the actual statutory language and kill this thing before it makes it through another week.'' Bunch is apparently referring to increasing news coverage of the controversy.
  • Sept. 19, 2007: Eckersley advises Martin about the "official office policy on records retention'' and notes that Blunt told reporters the office had no such policy. Martin advises Eckersley to also inform Chrismer.
  • Sept. 19, 2007: Eckersley reminds Herschel that he is planning to take vacation the first week of October and to make sure there is no problem. Herschel forwards the note to an assistant, adding: "More than he knows.''
  • Sept. 21, 2007: Herschel and Eckersley have a verbal confrontation.
  • Sept. 22, 2007: Eckersley's managers order an investigation of Eckersley and shut off access to his computer.
  • Sept. 24, 2007: Martin orders office locks changed "due to Eck.'' AuBuchon orders an assistant to get copies of Eckersley's telephone records for the past two months.
  • Sept. 25, 2007: Deputy Commissioner of Administration Rich AuBuchon directs his assistant to "get a copy of all Web sites Scott Eckersley visited over the past month.'' The search turns up an e-mail from an adult dating Web site to Eckersley's personal e-mail account which he forwarded to his state e-mail account.
  • Sept. 28, 2007: Eckersley is fired.
  • Oct. 26, 2007: AuBuchon sends information packets to the News-Leader, Post-Dispatch, The Associated Press and The Kansas City Star seeking to explain why Eckersley was fired. The packets accuse Eckersley of doing private work on state computers and viewing a "group sex Internet site.'' They also raise questions about whether Eckersley used drugs.
  • Oct. 28, 2007: The Post-Dispatch and News-Leader publish articles in which Eckersley says he was fired after raising concerns about how the governor's office was handling e-mails and Sunshine Law requests.
  • Oct. 31, 2007: The Associated Press files a Sunshine Law request for e-mails contained on the state's backup recovery system for Blunt, Eckersley and several other top officials in Blunt's administration.
  • Nov. 9, 2007: The AP reports it has obtained a memo sent by Eckersley — before he was fired — to members of the governor's staff challenging their public statements about e-mail deletions.
  • Nov. 15, 2007: Nixon appoints three special investigators to determine whether Blunt's office was complying with the state's record retention policies and Sunshine Law. Blunt's office condemns the probe as politically motivated and announces plans to create a permanent e-mail retention system that goes beyond legal requirements.
  • Nov. 20, 2007: Martin resigns without explanation as Blunt's chief of staff.
  • Dec. 4, 2007: Blunt replaces his general counsel, Herschel.
  • Jan. 9, 2008: Eckersley files a lawsuit against Blunt, Martin, AuBuchon, Herschel and Chrismer. Eckersley claims he was fired for being a whistleblower for Sunshine Law violations in the governor's office and that the information packets sent to reporters was defamatory.
  • Jan. 10, 2008: Blunt's office tells the AP and the Post-Dispatch that responding to Sunshine Law requests for backup e-mail records will cost about $23,625 to retrieve and review the e-mails, plus additional unspecified costs for copies.
  • Jan. 22, 2008: Blunt announces he will not seek re-election.
  • March 7, 2008: The Post-Dispatch reports that Blunt's administration has told the special investigators appointed by Nixon it will cost nearly $541,000 to recover and review e-mails from the archival system.
  • May 5, 2008: The three special investigators appointed by Nixon's office file a lawsuit against Blunt and the state's computer chief. The suit accuses two officials in Blunt's office of ordering the backup e-mail records deleted after the AP requested them. The special investigators also seek e-mails from the governor's office at no cost.
  • June 11, 2008: The AP, Post-Dispatch and Star seek court permission to join the special investigators' lawsuit against Blunt in order to pursue their own Sunshine Law requests for e-mails.
  • July 11, 2008: Cole County Judge Richard Callahan dismisses the special investigators' suit against Blunt, finding that they don't have standing to sue.
  • July 22, 2008: Callahan appoints Republican attorney Louis Leonatti and former Democratic Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell to be special assistant attorneys general with the authority to pursue the case against Blunt.
  • Aug. 25, 2008: Leonatti and Maxwell refile the lawsuit against Blunt.
  • Oct. 15, 2008: Blunt agrees to provide e-mails requested by the three media companies at no cost. The settlement resolves the claims in that portion of the lawsuit.
  • Nov. 13, 2008: Blunt's office delivers to the three media companies a stack of 22 boxes, each filled with thousands of paper copies of his office's e-mail records requested under the Sunshine Law.

 


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