Editor's Note

The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. We will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Missouri E-Mail Flap Results in Lawsuit

The former deputy legal counsel to Gov. Matt Blunt sued the governor and four of his top aides Wednesday, alleging a wide-ranging conspiracy to cover up the administration’s activities.

The suit, filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, describes schemes within the governor’s office to destroy public documents, to evade the state Sunshine law by sending text messages on personal Blackberrys and to fire a long-time state employee for political reasons.

In addition to Republican Blunt, the suit names Ed Martin, Blunt’s former chief of staff who was fired last November; Henry Herschel, Blunt’s former general counsel who resigned in December; Richard Aubuchon, the state’s deputy commissioner of administration; and Rich Chrismer, Blunt’s deputy chief of staff and chief spokesman.

The suit was filed by Scott Eckersley, who was Blunt’s deputy legal counsel until last September.

Among the suit’s allegations:

* In early 2007, the state Labor and Industrial had issued an erroneous legal opinion that found that the ballot initiative boosting the state minimum wage did not apply to tipped employees. When Eckersley identified the state director of Labor and Industrial Relations as the person responsible for mistake, Martin replied that he could not be fired for political reasons.

Instead, they fired Cynthia Quetsch, the department’s general counsel and a 15-year employee, because she had worked under former Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, and because her husband worked for Attorney General Jay Nixon, who was expected to challenge Blunt for governor.

* In July 2007, Chrismer sent e-mails to the Department of Public Safety and the Highway Patrol, seeking to a way to blame Nixon for his handling of negotiations with Ameren Corp. about the investigation into the collapse of Ameren’s Taum Sauk reservoir in southeast Missouri.

Those e-mail messages later became the subject of a critical story in The Kansas City Star. That prompted Herschel to call a meeting of the administration’s top lawyers last August. Herschel suggested the departments should destroy e-mails to avoid turning them over to press or public.

At the time, Sunshine requests were pending and such deletion was equivalent to destroying evidence, the suit says.

Several lawyers at the meeting protested that e-mail was a public record and was preserved on back-up tapes even if deleted from a computer. But Herschel was undeterred and closed meeting with an order to delete emails and deny Sunshine requests.

Martin then instructed the governor’s office to delete e-mail in inbox and trash files “to ensure they did not have to be turned over to the press or the public in response to Sunshine requests.”

The governor’s staff began discussing the benefit of sending sensitive or potentially damaging communications via Blackberry text message in the belief that such messages were not retained and would not have to be turned over to the press or public.

More here.

No comments: