July 11, 2008

Cole County Judge Considers Dismissal of E-Mail Lawsuit

A Cole County judge was urged Thursday to dismiss a lawsuit over the state e-mail retention policy of Gov. Matt Blunt's office.

Blunt's lawyer, John Holstein, a former state Supreme Court judge who is now in private practice, argued that there was no provision in state law for the lawsuit brought in the case. The suit was filed in May by Mel Fisher, a former superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol who was appointed as an independent investigator in the matter.

A lawsuit filed by Fisher accuses Blunt's office of violating the state Sunshine Law. The suit stemmed from the firing last year of a Blunt attorney named Scott Eckersley.

Eckersley contends in a separate defamation lawsuit that he was fired for questioning the office's e-mail retention practices. Blunt's office maintains that he was fired for other reasons.

Holstein, of Shughart, Thomson & Kilroy, said Fisher has no authority to sue over Sunshine Law violations.

"The only state official who can bring a Sunshine Law claim ... is the attorney general, not the state," he said.

Fisher's attorney, St. Louis lawyer Chet Pleban, countered that the attorney general's appointment meant Fisher was "clothed with the duty and responsibility" to initiate litigation.

"Of course, you had the ability to initiate litigation when you passed the bar," Judge Richard Callahan pointed out, prompting laughter from Pleban and the courtroom.

"Yes, but this comes from the attorney general," Pleban responded.

Separately, the Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Kansas City Star argued Thursday that they should be allowed to join Fisher's lawsuit. The three media outlets are seeking many of the same e-mails from Blunt's office, which has priced the request at thousands of dollars.

Callahan took both matters under advisement.

Originally published by The (Kansas City) Daily Record.

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