Cost of Mo. legal battles over e-mails, firing about $1 million

Monday, December 8, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The legal battles over e-mail policies and a fired governor's office employee apparently have cost the state of Missouri about $1 million.

Much of the money has been spent to defend Gov. Matt Blunt and his office against allegations of wrongful termination and defamation made by former legal counsel Scott Eckersley, who claimed he was fired after warning Blunt staffers they were not abiding by e-mail retention laws.

Blunt's administration has said Eckersley was fired for justifiable reasons, including for doing private work with state resources.

Eckersley's allegations in fall 2007 helped spawn an attorney general's investigation into whether the governor's office complied with open-records and e-mail retention laws. Taxpayers have paid for both sides of that legal dispute.

Blunt spokeswoman Jessica Robinson suggested Friday that the money had gone to a "legal fiasco."

"At some point, Missouri taxpayers are entitled to ask if this is a waste of their time and tax dollars. We believe it is," Robinson said in a written statement asking for an apology on behalf of three Blunt administration officials who were dropped as defendants from the e-mail lawsuit earlier this week.

Documents provided to The Associated Press in response to a Sunshine Law request show:

* $220,767 has been paid to Bryan Cave LLC, which has represented Blunt.

* $128,575 has been paid to Spencer Fane Britt & Browne LLP, which has represented former Blunt chief of staff Ed Martin.

* $122,243 has been paid to Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, which has represented Blunt's former deputy administration commissioner, Rich AuBuchon.

* $94,947 has been paid to Dowd Bennet LLP, which has represented former Blunt legal counsel Henry Herschel.

* $89,783 has been paid to Seyferth, Blumenthal & Harris LLC, which has represented Blunt communications director Rich Chrismer.

Separately, the attorney general's office said it has spent $160,052 on the investigators and special assistant attorneys general who were appointed to pursue a probe into public records policies and practices of the governor's office.

Records provided to the AP show St. Louis attorney Chet Pleban was paid $81,161. He was removed from the case after a Cole County judge determined the investigators had no authority to bring a lawsuit against Blunt's office. Instead, the court appointed Mexico, Mo., attorneys Louis Leonatti and Joe Maxwell, a former lieutenant governor, to take over the case.

So far, Maxwell has been paid $20,752 and Leonatti has received $19,972, according to records provided by the attorney general's office. Those costs are likely to rise as they pursue a revised lawsuit filed earlier this week against Blunt and Martin.

Others paid by the attorney general's office include two investigators, Eric Wilhoit ($25,812) and Mel Fisher ($12,355).

A state website that tracks spending shows the governor's office also has paid $202,468 to Shughart Thomson & Kilroy, a law firm representing Blunt. A more detailed accounting was not immediately available Friday, although the AP has an open-records request on that matter pending with the governor's office.

Associated Press writer Chris Blank contributed to this report.

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