A Jefferson City judge has approved a settlement that keeps a lawsuit that accuses Governor Blunt’s administration of mishandling e-mail correspondence from going to trial.
Special Assistant Attorney General, Louis Leonatti, outlined the case against the Blunt Administration with a power-point presentation of e-mail traffic within the governor’s office, mainly in September of last year. The electronic correspondence disclosed that the administration incorrectly interpreted how e-mails are to be handled in accordance with the state records retention law and the open records law. The violations, according to Leonatti, stemmed from incorrect legal advice, advice that later was corrected.
Leonatti made his presentation in the courtroom of Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan, who accepted the settlement between the special assistant attorneys general and legal counsel for the Blunt Administration. Callahan initially dismissed the case against the governor’s office, finding that the Attorney General didn’t have authority to delegate responsibility to a private investigator. Callahan then appointed Leonatti and Joe Maxwell as special assistant attorneys general to pick up and continue the lawsuit.
Counsel for the governor, former Supreme Court Judge John Holstein, made a counter presentation before Callahan. Though Holstein asserted that the governor’s legal team would have won at trial, the main point he made was that no evidence has been provided that Governor Blunt as an individual violated the Sunshine Law or that the office ordered the destruction of backup tapes.
Maxwell told reporters afterward that the settlement gets to the heart of the issue: making tens-of-thousands of e-mails from top officials in the Blunt Administration available to the public. To settle a portion of the lawsuit that involved the news media, the governor’s office released 60,000 pages of e-mails, leaving only 180 in dispute. A special court-appointed master will determine whether those will be released to the public.
Maxwell says taking the Blunt Administration to trial wasn’t the point nor was accusing anyone of breaking state law. He said the point of the lawsuit was to make e-mails from the Blunt Administration open to the public.
The investigative team that began reviewing the e-mail policy of the Blunt Administration now has until late this month to file a report. The Blunt Administration will be given the opportunity to response to the team’s findings.