Former Blunt aide drops wrongful firing suit

JEFFERSON CITY | An aide to former Gov. Matt Blunt confirmed Tuesday that he is dropping a wrongful termination and defamation lawsuit, finally fulfilling a $500,000 settlement reached a couple of months ago.

Former Blunt legal counsel Scott Eckersley agreed in May to drop the suit within seven days of receiving a pair of settlement checks. Although those checks arrived in early June, Eckersley refused to cash them because he was holding out for an apology letter from the state.

He hasn’t received the letter. But Eckersley said Tuesday he is cashing the checks and dropping the lawsuit.

“The No. 1 priority of the settlement has always been clearing my name, and I’m satisfied that will be accomplished based on my meeting yesterday with the attorney general’s office,” Eckersley said.

Attorney General Chris Koster’s office said a dismissal document signed by Eckersley would be filed soon in Jackson County Circuit Court, where the lawsuit is pending.

Eckersley claimed he was fired in September 2007 in retaliation for raising concerns about e-mail deletions in Blunt’s office. He also claimed he was defamed by Blunt’s administration as it offered various personal and work-related reasons for his dismissal. Blunt has insisted Eckersley was fired for legitimate reasons, including doing excessive private work from his state office.

The written settlement agreement included no admission of wrongdoing in Eckersley’s firing and made no mention of a state letter clearing Eckersley’s character and job performance.

But Eckersley has said he agreed to the settlement only after receiving assurances from Koster’s office and Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration that negative materials would be removed from his personnel file and he would receive a letter from Nixon exonerating him.

Eckersley received a letter from Nixon’s administration commissioner, Kelvin Simmons, stating he “found no substantiation” for “certain justifications” that had been publicly offered for Eckersley’s firing. A Nixon spokesman has denied any pledge for a letter from the governor himself.

St. Louis attorney Jerry Hunter, who represents Blunt, said the former Republican governor is pleased the case is finally being dismissed but was surprised by the letter from Simmons because it was not part of the written settlement agreement.

“He would certainly hope the state of Missouri would not be giving any further letters (to Eckersley), since the settlement does not require any,” Hunter said.

Although Eckersley remains hopeful of receiving an official letter from the state, Koster’s spokeswoman Nanci Gonder said Tuesday that “there’s no letter, and no promises for a letter” from the attorney general’s office.