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E-mails show Eckersley part of high court selection process

The e-mails obtained by Missouri Lawyers Weekly from former Gov. Matt Blunt’s administration do more than lay out the internal debate over the selection of state Supreme Court Judge Patricia Breckenridge.

Some of the e-mails also make clear the involvement of former Blunt staff lawyer Scott Eckersley in the office’s deliberations and discussions about the high-court vacancy.

On July 31, 2007, Eckersley sent an e-mail to Bunt’s Chief of Staff Ed Martin, general counsel Henry Herschel and communications director Rich Chrismer laying out some details about the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan, including which states still use a version of the plan.

Eckersley also was involved in a supporting role in the drafting of a July 30, 2007, letter from Herschel to chief state Supreme Court Justice Laura Denvir Stith. In that letter, Herschel pointed out some problems and omissions in the court candidate applications and related documents that Stith had forwarded to the governor’s office.

Eckersley circulated a note to other top Blunt staff members on July 25, 2007, warning them that the judicial selection commission was expected to make public later that day its three candidates, who included Breckenridge, for the state Supreme Court vacancy.

“Grote says they are not good,” Eckersley said, referring to Mike Grote, who lobbies for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

A few months later, in late September 2007, Eckersley was fired. He maintains that he was dismissed after raising concerns that Blunt’s staff was not properly preserving e-mails in compliance with state record-retention and open-records laws.

Blunt and some aides maintained that Eckersley was fired for other reasons, including doing work for a family business on state time. Eckersley has sued for defamation of character because of some of the initial assertions of alleged personal misdeeds by some in Blunt’s administration – including Martin and Rich AuBuchon, then deputy commissioner and chief counsel in the state Office of Administration. Blunt and his staff later backed off those accusations.

After Eckersley’s firing, top Blunt aides had characterized him as having little involvement in major office actions. The e-mails provided to Missouri Lawyers Weekly refute that portrayal.

Blunt’s office declined for months to provide e-mails to some news outlets that had filed open-records requests in late 2007 seeking copies of the office e-mails pertaining to the judicial selection process that led to Breckenridge’s appointment.

Some of those e-mails, along with tens of thousands of others, were released in mid-November to several news outlets – the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Kansas City Star and The Associated Press – that had gone to court to challenge the refusals and hefty price tags of more than $23,000 that Blunt’s office was requiring that the outlets pay.

Blunt’s office e-mails dealing with Breckenridge’s selection are once again in the news. Late last month, an investigative team initially set up by the attorney general’s office in November 2007 reported that it had an additional 500 Blunt office e-mails that dealt with the selection of Breckenridge and had not yet been made public.

It’s unclear whether any of the e-mails received by Missouri Lawyers Weekly are among those 500.