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Convoluted as that sounds, Eckersley would soon be using that memo as evidence that he'd urged greater transparency. And he was going to need all the evidence he could get.
At the time Memogate broke, Eckersley wasn't exactly employee of the year. He'd shown up late on at least three occasions. After getting reprimanded, he e-mailed a friend, "I just kind of don't really care too much."
Eckersley's supervisor, general counsel Henry Herschel, allowed the young man to do legal work for his family's business while at the office. But on September 21, Herschel admonished him to focus more on his tasks for the state.
Eckersley fired back in an e-mail: "If you have a problem with me come in and talk to me about it face to face."
Worst of all, Eckersley — a devout Mormon who'd just broken up with his fiancée — registered on the racy website Adult Friend Finder, looking for a "slim and attractive woman." He apparently checked several boxes in the "Looking For" section of his profile, including "Group sex (3 or more)."
The adult website generated messages to Eckersley's family business e-mail account — which automatically forwarded them to his state e-mail. (He claims he never looked at them at the office.)
Eckersley and Herschel had a blow-up confrontation on Friday, September 21, 2007. Martin assured the young man by text over the weekend that all would be well.
But on Sunday evening, Eckersley found himself frozen out of his government e-mail account. He was told to stay out of the office for a few days.
The next Friday, Ed Martin hauled Eckersley into his office.
As Eckersley secretly recorded the conversation, Martin mentioned the Sunshine Law and said he'd heard that Eckersley planned to go out "with guns blazing" and "take down the governor." Martin then said he was firing Eckersley, citing the personal business he was doing on state time, e-mails from the "group sex" site and the argument with Herschel.
As the recording makes clear, Eckersley tried to explain that his disagreement with Herschel involved the Sunshine Law.
Eckersley: This was about me sending an e-mail to you, which I've done several times, where things are being overlooked. This was me trying to say: We're saying this, and it's not that.
Martin: You're not fucking right. And it's not your role, so —
Eckersley: How am I not right?
Martin: You're not right on any of this shit. You were told not to send e-mails to me and you decided to do it anyway. It's called insubordination to your direct supervisor.
Tipped off one month later that Eckersley was about to go public with his own story, Martin had packets sent to media outlets. Inside were printouts of e-mails from Scott Eckersley's account showing the private work he'd done on government time. A letter, composed by Martin but signed by another staffer, reiterated the governor's justification for firing Eckersley. It also added new reasons, such as possible drug use — an accusation Martin has never proved.
In the stories that finally ran on October 28, Eckersley publicly swiped back at his bosses. He got canned, he said, because he'd urged them, both verbally and in writing, to follow the Sunshine Law.
Eckersley sued the state for wrongful termination in January 2008. The case was settled last year. Total cost to Missouri taxpayers, including legal fees: about $1.8 million.
Neither side ever backed down from its accusations.
"I'm not pretending we didn't play hardball," Martin says. "He was threatening the governor of the state of Missouri, and he was lying."
Eckersley, for his part, is running for Congress in southwest Missouri, touting his record as a "whistle blower."
"I think he's despicable," Eckersley says of Martin. "He has no place in public service."
Whatever the merits of Eckersley's legal claim, his settlement left a critical issue unresolved: Did Ed Martin and others in the governor's office who deleted their e-mails knowingly violate the Sunshine Law?
On November 15, 2007, Attorney General Jay Nixon appointed special investigators to look into the matter. They requested to review some 60,000 government e-mails.
Five days later, Martin resigned as chief of staff.
"I'd become such a lightning rod," he explains today. "I said, 'This may be a good time for me to go.'"
Blunt wrangled with the investigators for a year, then finally agreed to release the records free of charge. When reporters pored over them, they discovered hundreds of e-mails responsive to Tony Messenger's original request. Martin had deleted them — before, he says, the request came in — but they'd been retained on backup tapes.
"I did not, and I don't think anybody did think, that a normal request for Sunshine information required retrieval from the backup tapes," Martin later said in a deposition.
Interestingly, when Messenger finally got his hands on Martin's e-mails — the ones the governor's office fought so hard to protect — the worst he could write was that they were "questionably relevant to state business." The scandal, it turned out, had more to do with Blunt's resistance to releasing the e-mails, than their actual content.
Indeed, the investigators concluded in February 2009 that the governor's record retention policies had been "insufficient" and "not in compliance" with the Sunshine Law, due to unsound legal advice.
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