Attorney says Blunt e-mail report back on track

Friday, January 30, 2009 | 1:34 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Just days after halting their work, investigators looking into the e-mail practices of former Gov. Matt Blunt's office have changed course and now plan to issue a report on their findings, an attorney said Friday.

The main reason for the reversal is that investigators have received assurance from the attorney general's office that their legal defense costs would be covered by the state if they were sued as a result of their work, said Louis Leonatti, one of two court-appointed special assistant attorneys general handling the case.

The probe into whether the Republican governor's office deleted e-mails in violation of Missouri's public records laws was initiated in November 2007 by then-Attorney General Jay Nixon, a Democrat. Blunt did not seek re-election last year, and Nixon took office as governor Jan. 12.

Under a legal settlement, the investigators were supposed to submit a report by Monday to Blunt's attorneys, who then were to have until Friday to attach a response before the report was made public.

But the investigators missed the deadline, raised various frustrations about the case and said they were ending their work without filing a report. As recently as Tuesday, lead investigator Mel Fisher said nothing would prompt him to complete the report.

But Attorney General Chris Koster said in a letter dated Tuesday to the court-appointed attorneys that the investigators were protected by the state's legal expense fund and should file a report.

Fisher did not immediately return telephone messages Friday, but Leonatti said: "They are going to file a report."

Leonatti filed court documents Friday asking Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan to extend the report deadline until Feb. 13. He cited Koster's recent verification that the investigators were covered by the legal expense fund and the fact that they still were reviewing several hundred of the tens of thousands of e-mails provided by the governor's office.

Blunt attorney John Holstein, a former Supreme Court judge, said Friday that he remains opposed to an extension of the report deadline.

"We entered into an agreement, and the judge approved it. We're trying to put this matter to rest," he said.

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