November 04, 2007

What's next in Blunt-Eckersley dispute?

The dispute between the Blunt administration and Scott Eckersley continues to be fought out in media and blogs. The more we learn the worse this looks for the Blunt team from a public relations stand point but what can we expect on the legal front? Here is a look at some of the legal issues which might arise.

Blunt's policy of deleting emails has been roundly criticized and I have yet to see anyone provide legal support for their actions. Whatever their legal reasoning is, the Blunt administration could have gone to court before destroying the records to let a judge tell them the legality of their policy. This type of action is known as a declaratory judgment and it is specifically provided for under Section 610.027 of the Sunshine Law. Of course, if Blunt would have asked a judge he most certainly would have learned he could not delete the emails, thus ruining the "we didn't know we couldn't do that" defense.

Assuming Eckersley told his bosses they were violating the law in deleting emails and that he was fired as a result, the Blunt administration violated several Missouri laws. Section 610.028 prohibited Eckersley's superiors from taking any disciplinary action against him for reporting the violation and Section 105.055 provides protection to state employees who report a violation of the law by their bosses. 105.055 prohibits any disciplinary action to be taken against a whistle blower and, if the employee is disciplined, provides that employee with the right to file an administrative appeal of the disciplinary action. This appeal is to be filed within 30 days of the termination.

If the appeals board found Eckersley's termination was a violation of Section 105.055 it can order such relief it deems appropriate. If the appeals board found that anyone in Blunt's administration violated 105.055 it could recommend disciplinary action against that employee, including termination. 105.055 also has a provision for a civil action in which Eckersley could request damages, including his attorney fees. The civil action must be filed within 90 days of the alleged violation. Eckersley would also have other civil actions available such as defamation and various federal claims.

The Blunt administration's refusal to turn over records could open them up to an action under the Sunshine law. 610.030 would allow a judge to order Blunt to comply with the Sunshine law while 610.027 allows for monetary damages for any violation.

Section 109.180 states that the refusal to allow for a proper request to inspect public records is grounds for removal from office of appointed officials and impeachment for elected officials. Finally, this section also makes the violation a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $100.00 dollars and up to 90 days in the county jail.

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