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Blunt provides Nixon investigators records on media requests

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Matt Blunt's office has provided attorney general's investigators with almost 3,000 pages of documents detailing open-records requests made by the media, his political opponents and citizens.

But that information covers only a small part of what investigators appointed by Attorney General Jay Nixon have requested as they look into whether Blunt's office violated Missouri's open-records law or document-retention policies by deleting some e-mails.

The Associated Press submitted an open-records request for correspondence between the governor's office and attorney general's investigators, including copies of records supplied to investigators by Blunt's office.

The documents provided Monday to the AP show that of 45 specific records requests made in January by the investigators, Blunt's office provided documents in response to just two of them. Both sought information about previous Sunshine Law requests submitted by the media to Blunt's administration since January 2007.

Blunt's office went further, however, by providing investigators and the AP with what it said was every Sunshine Law request and response since he was sworn into office in January 2005. That included more than 80 requests from the media, Missouri Democratic Party, interest groups, individuals and attorneys representing various clients.

Blunt spokesman Nanci Gonder said the governor's office was trying to demonstrate it is "being transparent and providing even more information than we're required to give."

Nixon's lead investigator, former Missouri State Highway Patrol superintendent Mel Fisher, described the information provided by Blunt's office as "not very responsive."

But there are some useful tidbits within the documents, said Chet Pleban, an attorney for Nixon's investigative team.

"The documents that the governor's office provided to us corroborate information that we have received independently of the governor's office" about "some steps that they took pertaining to e-mails," said Pleban, who declined to elaborate.

The governor's office provided the documents for free, because it said they already were available in paper format. But it has told Nixon's investigators it will cost nearly $541,000 in research and review time to comply with their other requests seeking various e-mail records.

Pleban sent the Blunt's attorneys a letter March 14 saying it appeared they were at an impasse and asking how best to serve Blunt with a lawsuit.

The documents obtained by the AP show that a Blunt attorney has tentatively scheduled an April 4 meeting at the Lake of the Ozarks with investigators to try to negotiate a lower price for the records. Blunt's office has said the cost is high because old e-mails must be retrieved from backup computer files and reviewed by attorneys to determine which items are exempt from disclosure.

Nixon appointed a three-person team in November to function independently of his oversight while investigating the governor's office e-mail practices. That came after former Blunt legal counsel Scott Eckersley claimed he was fired for advising the governor's office it could be breaking the open-records law by not retaining some e-mails. Eckersley has sued Blunt for wrongful firing and defamation. Blunt has said Eckersley was fired for justifiable reasons, including doing private work with state resources.

Most of the 45 record requests submitted in January by the investigators mention Eckersley, while others seek such things as any e-mails discussing the office's record-retention policy and media criticism of it.

Gonder said 26 of the 45 requests are exempt from disclosure under the Sunshine Law because they sought information shielded by attorney-client privilege, connected to Eckersley's lawsuit or about closed personnel issues. She said portions of 17 other records requests also could contain closed information.


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