Special prosecutors file lawsuit against Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt

Thursday, December 4, 2008 | 7:07 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Thirteen months after allegations arose surrounding Gov. Matt Blunt's compliance with the Missouri Sunshine Law, special prosecutors are seeking fines against the outgoing governor. The lawsuit alleges that Blunt "knowingly and purposely" violated Missouri's open records laws by denying members of the press access to e-mails.

The revised lawsuit, filed Wednesday and made public Thursday, is the latest step in a controversy around the outgoing governor and a number of state employees.

The lawsuit states Blunt and his office violated state law by failing to produce requested documents, failing to adhere to "appropriate policies for the retention of public records, including e-mails" and charging significant amounts of money for documents requested by Missouri media organizations.

The revised lawsuit alleges that Ed Martin, Blunt's former chief of staff, purposely violated the Sunshine Law by denying a records request made in August 2007 and states that Martin indicated he deleted the e-mails in question.

According to court documents, Blunt will be deposed on Dec. 11. The Republican governordid not run for re-election

Jessica Robinson, spokesperson for the governor's office, called the revised lawsuit an "11th-hour effort" to develop a case involving the disputed e-mails.

"Hours of deposition testimony has proven that no e-mails were destroyed, and neither the governor nor anyone in his office ever asked that any e-mails be destroyed," Robinson said in an e-mailed statement.

The Missouri Sunshine Law governs all public meetings and records. Penalties for "knowingly" violating the law, according to information from the state attorney general's office, are fines of up to $1,000. A stricter penalty of up to $5,000 is allowed for those who "purposely" violate this law.

MU journalism professor Charles Davis said e-mails and open records laws across the nation have come into question before. He cited cases with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Texas Gov. Rick Perry as examples of the murky territory.

But Davis said these issues, when involving governors, rarely result in a guilty verdict.

"A governor has never been found guilty," Davis said. "I don't know if they ever will be. These things tend to work their way out in a nonlaw enforcement context."

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