Ex-Blunt aide says he's owed exoneration letter

Friday, July 17, 2009 | 5:17 p.m. CDT; updated 7:15 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 17, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — An attorney who claimed he was wrongly fired and defamed by former Gov. Matt Blunt now claims he is owed an apology from Gov. Jay Nixon.

Former Blunt aide Scott Eckersley settled the lawsuit against Blunt's administration in May for $500,000 but has not spent the money because he has been holding out for an official state apology.

On Friday, Eckersley said he fired his attorneys and is searching for new ones as he considers taking legal action to get an apology letter or to set aside the settlement and reopen his lawsuit against Blunt.

Eckersley's suit claimed he was fired from Blunt's office in September 2007 in retaliation for raising concerns that it was deleting e-mails in violation of public records laws. It also claimed he was defamed when Blunt's administration offered various personal and work-related explanations for his firing. Blunt has said Eckersley was fired for legitimate reasons, including doing excessive private work from his state office.

The written settlement agreement includes no admission of wrongdoing in Eckersley's firing and makes no mention of a state letter clearing Eckersley's character and job performance.

But Eckersley said officials for Nixon, Blunt's successor, and for Attorney General Chris Koster, who brokered the settlement, assured his attorneys that negative materials would be expunged from his personnel file and that he would receive an exoneration letter from Nixon. Without such promises, Eckersley said he never would have agreed to the settlement.

At a Capitol meeting with a Nixon deputy last week, Eckersley received a letter signed by Commissioner of Administration Kelvin Simmons saying he "found no substantiation" for "certain justifications" that had been publicly offered for his firing. But the letter did not specify the unsubstantiated allegations.

Eckersley said Friday that Simmons' letter was fine for his personnel file but that he had expected to receive a "full exoneration" letter from Nixon himself.

"What's outstanding is an apology letter that was guaranteed me," Eckersley said.

Nixon spokesman Jack Cardetti said Eckersley asked for a letter from Nixon but was not promised he would receive one.

"Our office considered Scott Eckersley's request and ultimately decided that the state's chief personnel officer was the most appropriate state official to write that letter," Cardetti said.

Koster spokeswoman Nanci Gonder did not answer a question Friday about whether the attorney general's office had assured Eckersley that he would receive an exoneration letter from Nixon.

Instead, Gonder said in a written statement: "Our office continues to try to bring final resolution to the Eckersley v. Blunt matter in an attempt to save Missouri's taxpayers millions of dollars in litigation costs."

When announcing the settlement May 22, Koster said the state's legal expense fund already had paid more than $1.3 million to attorneys defending Blunt and his former staff.


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