A lawsuit charges Governor Matt Blunt’s staff violated state open records laws by ordering the destruction of hundreds of e-mail messages last year to keep them from being made public.
The St.Louis Post-Dispatch reports the lawsuit was filed today in Cole County Circuit Court by a special investigative team set up by Attorney General Jay Nixon last November. The team is headed by former Highway Patrol Superintendent Mel Fisher.
The suit filed against Blunt and the state custodian of records, Dan Ross, says Blunt’s then-chief of staff, Ed Martin, and Deputy Commissioner Rich AuBuchon of the Office of Administration gave the order to Ross who, in turn, told office supervisors to delete certain e-mails from backup storage tapes.
However, the lawsuit says two supervisors in the Office of Administration refused to follow the order.
The lawsuit says the order to destroy the backup tapes was given so the Associated Press and the Post-Dispatch could not have access to the communications. It says the order was issued October 31, shortly after word got out that former Blunt deputy counsel Scott Eckersley had been fired after advocating retention of the e-mails as public records.
Blunt later admitted some e-mails are public records after his staff had denied they were. He later ordered the Office of Administration to create a system for retention of e-mails throughout state government.
The lawsuit asks a judge to order all documents the investigative team had requested to be given to the investigators at no cost. Blunt’s office was demanding almost $541,000 in processing fees. The newspaper says the suit also asks that all backup tapes that it claims Blunt’s staff wanted altered be turned over to a judge.
The Governor’s office and state Republican leaders have accused Nixon of playing politics with the investigation. Until Blunt pulled out of a re-election campaign earlier this year, he and Nixon were considered likely opponents in November. Nixon says he appointed the investigative team to look into the issue independently of his office.