A judge in Jefferson City has scheduled a hearing for this morning on whether three news media organizations should be allowed to join a lawsuit filed by a special investigative team that accuses Governor Blunt’s office of violating the Sunshine Law in its handling of e-mails. The hearing will also consider a request to dismiss the case altogether.
Governor Blunt mounts two defenses. One, that the independent investigative team appointed by Attorney General Jay Nixon is anything but independent. Two, that Blunt took steps in November to implement a system to retain every e-mail received and sent to the office.
"The governor’s office has a permanent e-mail retention policy that covers every e-mail sent or distributed through the governor’s office," says Blunt spokesman Jessica Robinson.
Robinson denies that the accusations of former Deputy Counsel Scott Eckersley, that he was fired for questioning the office e-mail policy, prompted the change. Eckersley’s accusations, among others, prompted the Attorney General to appoint the investigative team. The Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Kansas City Star have all filed papers in Cole County Circuit Court to join the lawsuit.
Attorney General spokesman Scott Holste rejects Robinson’s accusation that the investigation is wholly political. He maintains it is, indeed, independent.
"It is being done completely independent of this office and has been done so from day one," says Holste.
The investigative team, led by former State Highway Patrol Superintendent Mel Fisher, has requested 45 specific categories of records from the governor’s office. The news media outlets want a look at those e-mails as well. Former State Supreme Court Judge John Holstein, representing Blunt, has asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan will hear the motions.