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UPDATE: Fired Blunt aide cleared of misconduct allegations

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 | 1:02 p.m. CST; updated 2:00 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 15, 2009

JEFFERSON CITYA fired aide who raised concerns about e-mail deletions in former Gov. Matt Blunt's office has been cleared of professional misconduct alleged by Blunt's administration.

The exoneration for lawyer Scott Eckersley comes more than two years after his firing triggered legal spats over access to public records, defamation and wrongful termination that combined to cost taxpayers about $2 million.

As part of the dispute, former Blunt legal counsel Henry Herschel filed a disciplinary complaint that could have cost Eckersley his law license.

In a letter dated Friday to Herschel, the state Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel said it found no grounds to take action against Eckersley and had dismissed the complaint. Eckersley, who also received the letter, provided a copy to The Associated Press.

Herschel, who now is an administrative law judge for workers' compensation cases, said Tuesday that he filed the complaint on behalf of Blunt as part of his former duties. Herschel said he had no comment about its dismissal.

Herschel was Eckersley's boss in Blunt's office, and the two had clashed prior to Eckersley's firing in September 2007. About a month later, Eckersley went public with allegations that he had been dismissed after raising concerns that colleagues were not following public records laws. Blunt maintained Eckersley was fired for legitimate reasons, and his administration distributed a package of documents to the media raising questions about Eckersley's character.

Eckersley later sued for defamation and wrongful termination, and then-Attorney General Jay Nixon — who now is governor — appointed investigators to look into whether Blunt's office had complied with public records laws. Both cases eventually were settled. Blunt's office turned over more than 60,000 e-mails to investigators and the media, and the state agreed in May to pay $500,000 to Eckersley without any acknowledgment of wrongdoing.

The professional complaint against Eckersley remained in limbo during the legal wrangling. In his dismissal letter, Chief Disciplinary Counsel Alan Pratzel cleared Eckersley of several specific allegations.

Pratzel said Eckersley did not misrepresent his prior private sector employment and did not improperly perform unauthorized work for his family's business while employed by Blunt's office. Neither did Eckersley use his state e-mail in an unauthorized manner to access a personal Web site, nor did he improperly disclose any confidential information arising from his attorney-client responsibilities in Blunt's office, Pratzel wrote.

 


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