Former Gov. Blunt's office releases more e-mails

Thursday, February 19, 2009 | 5:15 p.m. CST; updated 5:56 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 19, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — Several hundred more pages of e-mails from former Gov. Matt Blunt were released Thursday to resolve a lawsuit brought by three news outlets over access to the records.

Last year, Blunt agreed to turn over thousands of e-mails to settle a lawsuit brought by The Associated Press, The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The additional e-mails released Thursday were initially withheld by Blunt's office but were ordered to be handed over by a special master after news outlets challenged their continued withholding.

Former gubernatorial legal aide Scott Eckersley has filed a separate wrongful termination and defamation lawsuit against Blunt and other former governor's office advisers.

Blunt, a Republican, ended his four-year term as governor in January and was replaced by Democrat Jay Nixon. Nixon, then Missouri's attorney general, launched an investigation into how Blunt's office handled e-mails after Eckersley claimed he was fired after advising colleagues that e-mails could be considered public records that must be retained.

Blunt has maintained Eckersley was fired in fall 2007 for legitimate reasons, including doing excessive amounts of private-sector work with his state computer.

The most recent e-mails to be released include a message sent by Ed Martin, then Blunt's chief of staff, after media accounts of Eckersley's assertions about deleted e-mails.

Martin said Eckersley is "confused and troubled and is now telling people lots of things that are not true and are meant to malign the office." Martin also said the governor's office had filed a complaint about Eckersley with the Missouri Bar.

That prompted the governor's general counsel at the time, Henry Herschel, to respond in an e-mail to Martin: "Ed please we can not say anything!!!!"

Martin said Thursday that Eckersley was fired for cause and that Herschel was advising against discussing the complaint because people can only acknowledge that one has been filed but cannot offer more details.

"Scott Eckersley was terminated for cause and after numerous issues arose in his employment including his admission of misconduct," Martin said. "After his termination, he engaged in private and public efforts — including his lawsuit — to try to make himself look like something other than an employee who was fired for cause."

Also among Thursday's documents were several drafts of a letter from Herschel to the state office responsible for investigating attorney misconduct. In the letter, Herschel wrote that he doesn't want to discuss the merits of the office's complaint but notes that "it may be useful to discuss the process with you prior to determining whether to file a formal complaint."

The complaint accused Eckersley of violating attorney-client privilege when he told news outlets he was fired for voicing his legal opinions on the administration's practice of deleting e-mails.

Eckersley did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Beside the media's attempts to get e-mails from Blunt's office, the investigators appointed by Nixon also sued. That lawsuit eventually was continued by two special court-appointed assistant attorneys general. In January, a state trial judge approved a settlement that blocked future lawsuits against Blunt and guaranteed investigators would get the same documents turned over to the media at no cost.

Throughout the attorney general office investigation, Blunt's office questioned its necessity, calling it a "fiasco" and a waste of state money.

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