JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Matt Blunt’s administration released an additional 850 pages of e-mail documents Monday that revealed frustration with a former staff attorney and a coordinated effort to pre-emptively fight claims he was wrongly fired.
The newly released records initially had been classified by Blunt’s office as exempt from Missouri’s open-records law when it provided about 60,000 pages of documents to the media last month under a legal settlement.
The additional pages were released after the exemptions were challenged by a media consortium composed of The Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The Kansas City Star.
Blunt’s administration is continuing to withhold an additional 180 e-mails sought by the media group, generally asserting the e-mail are shielded because they relate to legal actions or attorney communications.
A dispute over alleged e-mail deletions in Blunt’s office has lingered for more than a year.
In October 2007, former governor’s office attorney Scott Eckersley went public with assertions that he was fired after trying to draw colleagues’ attention to Missouri’s e-mail retention requirements and open-records law.
Blunt’s administration has insisted Eckersley was fired for a variety of other reasons.
The e-mails released in November show Eckersley — shortly before his firing — did tell colleagues that e-mails can be considered public records that must be retained under Missouri law. They also showed that Eckersley was occasionally late for work and had used his state computer for private work — something he had approval to do only on a limited basis.
The e-mails released Monday include one sent by Eckersley’s immediate supervisor, general counsel Henry Herschel, on Sept. 26 — the same day Eckersley was fired by Blunt’s chief of staff, Ed Martin.
Martin’s termination letter to Eckersley cites two reasons — excessive use of state resources for private business and Eckersley’s use of his state e-mail account for a “group sex website.”
That Web site was for a dating service, and the spam-like e-mails had automatically been forwarded from Eckersley’s private e-mail account to his state account.
In an e-mail to a fellow Blunt administration attorney on Sept. 26, Herschel said. “I did not get mad at eck for his computer use,” apparently referring to Eckersley.
“It was for his attendance and work product. I do not want him to start pointing fingers at other staff members in his attempt to minimize his issues. He cannot minimize his work product and lazy ways.”
After Eckersley was fired, his attorneys contend that he shut off the automatic forwarding function that had sent private e-mails to his state account.
Yet the documents provided to the media by Blunt’s administration include several e-mails sent in October from Eckersley’s private account to his public account, which Blunt staffers were monitoring. That apparently tipped Blunt’s administration that reporters had been trying to contact Eckersley and allowed Blunt’s office to prepare a pre-emptive response
On Oct. 8 to 9, Martin sent to Herschel and former Blunt administration attorney Rich AuBuchon a draft letter warning Eckersley that if he went public with a “selective description” of his firing that damages his ex-colleagues it would be treated as “defamation and will compel us to pursue all appropriate remedies and disclosures under all relevant law and ethical cannons.”
It was unclear Monday if that letter ever was sent to Eckersley.
On Oct. 26, 2007, just as Eckersley was preparing to go public with his claims, AuBuchon released a packet of materials to the media defending Eckersley’s firing and casting his character in a poor light.
Eckersley has since filed a lawsuit against Blunt and his top deputies alleging wrongful termination and defamation.