Blunt's attorneys subpoena reporters

Saturday, April 12, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- An Associated Press reporter and a former reporter for the Kansas City Star were subpoenaed Friday by attorneys defending Gov. Matt Blunt against a lawsuit filed by a former staff lawyer.

Scott Eckersley sued Blunt and four past or current staff members in January, claiming he was fired and defamed in the fall in retaliation for suggesting Blunt's administration was destroying e-mails in violation of Missouri's open-records law.

The AP plans to contest the subpoena.

The media packets, which defended the Eckersley firing, were also sent to The Kansas City Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Springfield News-Leader. Eckersley filed his lawsuit in Jackson County because The Star is published there.

Randy Smith, The Star's deputy managing editor, said the newspaper was working with its attorneys Friday night on a response to the subpoena.

The Post-Dispatch and the News-Leader said none of their reporters had been issued a subpoena.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Michael Manners said last week that deciding where the defamation claims should be tried depends on where the documents were read by media members.

Last week, Manners transferred the wrongful firing claims of the lawsuit from suburban Kansas City to Cole County. He was prepared to order the defamation portion moved from Independence to Kansas City when he received additional documents from Blunt's attorneys that indicated the media packets were hand-delivered to The Star's office in the Capitol.

Manners is giving all sides until April 17 to submit additional evidence.

Blunt has said Eckersley was fired for doing private legal work with state resources.

The media packets were sent unsolicited to the media outlets as Eckersley was preparing to speak publicly about allegations of e-mail deleting.

It contains documents defending the firing. It also claims Eckersley had registered for a "group sex Internet site" and had been questioned by the governor's chief of staff about illegal drug use.

Eckersley's lawsuit denies the charges, calling them "patently false" and "designed to injure, defame and smear." He also argues that he had permission to do some private legal work, which he describes as minimal.

A spokeswoman for Blunt declined to say whether other media outlets had been issued subpoenas.

"This office does not provide daily running commentary on this issue," said spokeswoman Nanci Gonder.

Last week, Blunt's attorneys asked the AP to submit an affidavit about the receipt of the documents. Earlier this week, Gonder also declined to say whether other media outlets were asked to submit affidavits or a deposition.

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