Gov. Matt Blunt says his office has no specific policy on deleting e-mails

Friday, November 2, 2007

ST. LOUIS -- Gov. Matt Blunt said Thursday his office has no written policy dictating which internal e-mails are public records and which can be deleted. He rebutted charges from a former staff lawyer who said he was fired for warning Blunt officials they had violated his office's written policy.

"Our policy is to follow the Sunshine Law," Blunt said, referring to Missouri's open records law. "That's it."

Blunt's former deputy legal counsel Scott Eckersley said he was fired in late September after he warned Blunt officials that their practice of deleting e-mails violated state open records law. Eckersley said he emphasized verbally and in e-mails to Blunt's staff that the governor's office had a written policy specifying how electronic messages and other records were to be saved.

"I believed I was fired for pointing to written office policy which ... contradicted how the office was handling record requests," Eckersley told the St. Louis-Post Dispatch.

Eckersley didn't return a message seeking comment Thursday.

Eckersley was fired around the time that Blunt officials were coming under fire for deleting internal e-mails, which are widely considered to be public documents. The Springfield News-Leader had requested some e-mails under the Sunshine Law, but was denied the request because the messages had been discarded.

Blunt said he considered some e-mails to be public documents that must be retained, while others can be deleted. E-mails that are later incorporated into other written documents are considered public, he said.

Instead of having a written policy to differentiate between public and private e-mails, Blunt said he relies on the Sunshine Law.

"The Sunshine Law provides lots of information about that, and differentiates, and is very specific about what is and what is not a public record," Blunt said.

The open records law is broadly worded and does not specifically mention e-mails, said Jean Maneke, a Kansas City attorney who specializes in open records cases.

"I think that as long as (an e-mail) relates to public business, it is going to be a public record under the Sunshine Law," Maneke said.

The Sunshine Law defines a public record as "... any record, whether written or electronically stored, retained by or of any public governmental body including any report, survey, memorandum, or other document ..."

Maneke pointed out that e-mails are a relatively new form of government document, and future lawsuits might determine which e-mails are public documents.

"There's not a lot of case law on this particular issue," she said.

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