Former Blunt lawyer at center of open-records dispute calls for more whistleblower protections
, the former lawyer to Gov. Matt Blunt who plagued that administration with a lengthy legal dispute over e-mail preservation, was back in Jefferson City on Tuesday to make a case that state government whistleblowers need more legal protection.
Eckersley testified before the state House General Laws Committee, which conducted a hearing on two bills -- both sponsored by state Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka -- that would expand the scope of the state's open-records laws. Among other things, one of the bills would require that newly elected officials undergo a two-hour information session on the particulars of Missouri's Sunshine Law. (Click here to read HB1445 and here to read HB1444.)
Eckersley said in an interview afterward that he called for expanding the law's provisions regarding whistleblowers. As it stands, state employees who believe they were fired for being whistleblowers have 90 days to sue the state. Eckersley testified that the time limit should be at least 180 days.
Eckersley was fired by then-Blunt chief of staff Ed Martin (now running for Congress) in September 2007 for what Eckersley maintains was retaliation for warning Blunt's staff that they were improperly destroying office e-mails that should be preserved under the state's record-preservation laws and made available to the public under the Sunshine Law.
Blunt, Martin and other aides claimed that Eckersley was fired for doing family legal work on state time and alleged personal misdeeds. Eckersley sued Blunt and several aides, including Martin, for violating the state's whistleblower protection law and defamation of character.
In the end, the suit was settled, no one admitted wrongdoing, and Eckersley was paid $500,000. The state paid close to $2 million in legal fees to defend Blunt, Martin and other administration aides. In separate court action, the Blunt administration made public close to 70,000 emails that it had initally declined to make public.
Blunt also set in place a new e-mail retention system that continues under now-Gov. Jay Nixon, who as attorney general had set up a special investigation team to look into Eckersley's allegations.
Eckersley is back in his hometown of Springfield, Mo., after completing a graduate degree at Stanford in California. He is looking for work as a lawyer. Eckersley also has not ruled out running for office, but emphasized he is a political independent.