An attorney on a special investigative team reviewing how Governor Blunt’s office handled e-mail correspondence isn’t worried about a court order that dismissed the team’s lawsuit.
Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan has found that head of the team, former State Highway Patrol Superintendent Mel Fisher, lacks the standing needed to bring legal action. Attorney General Jay Nixon appointed the team to investigate the case independent of his office. Callahan has given Nixon ten days to join the lawsuit or seek the court appointment of a Special Assistant Attorney General if the attorney general believes he has a conflict. An option also remains that Fisher could pursue the lawsuit as an aggrieved taxpayer or citizen, but then Fisher would have to bear the cost of the litigation.
An attorney for the investigative team, Chet Pleban of St. Louis, sees the ruling as a minor setback.
"Judge Callahan made a technical ruling," says Pleban, "He did not rule on any substantive issue whatsoever. All of those issues remain very alive, very viable."
Pleban says he will review the ruling and decide how to respond. He says the essence of the lawsuit remains; that the governor’s office might have violated state law by destroying e-mail correspondence.
Also reviewing the order is the Attorney General’s office. Attorney General spokesman Scott Holste issued a written statement on Judge Callahan’s ruling.
"We remain committed to ensuring that all public documents are open and available," Holste said in the statement, "We’re reviewing the order and will make sure that the independent investigative team has all the legal tools needed to accomplish this important work."
Holste declined to answer questions.
Governor Blunt’s attorney, former Missouri Supreme Court Judge John Holstein, declined to comment when contacted by the Missourinet. The governor’s office also declined a request for an interview, instead opting for a formal, written statement.
"The court has made an excellent decision in dismissing this political lawsuit filed by Jay Nixon’s political operatives," Blunt spokesman Jessica Robinson said in the written statement, "This political lawsuit accuses the governor of actions he did not take, it accuses the governor of actions that even if true would not be a violation of the law and it accuses the governor of actions that did not occur. In fact, it could be dismissed for any of these reasons and should Jay Nixon or his political operatives consider a similar lawsuit we stand ready to make all of these arguments for yet another dismissal."
The statement concludes with a final criticism of Nixon, "Jay Nixon’s office admitted to The Associated Press on September 25, 2007, that it routinely destroys e-mails in the Attorney General’s office and Jay Nixon refuses to participate in Gov. Blunt’s permanent e-mail retention system. Instead of launching political lawsuits we urge Jay Nixon to clean up his own office, stop destroying e-mails and join the governor’s office in saving every e-mail."
That last statement has struck a nerve in the Attorney General’s office, which has strongly denied the accusation and has stated that it displays a lack of understanding about the state records retention law. Holste says the Attorney General’s office strictly follows the state law, which allows for the deletion of electronic correspondence not considered public record.
Governor Blunt implemented a permanent e-mail retention system in November of last year. The lawsuit seeks electronic correspondence prior to that executive order.