RALEIGH — Former Gov. Mike Easley's press secretary said in sworn testimony that the governor wanted e-mail messages to and from his office deleted so they would not become public.
Renee Hoffman said that Easley, through his Communications Director Sherri Johnson, told public information officers throughout his administration to delete e-mails.
"She instructed me to tell them, tell the [public information officers] to delete their e-mails to and from the Governor's Office, to -- to not write about the Governor's Office in an e-mail, and to not put that instruction to their employees in an e-mail," Hoffman said, according to a deposition in a public records lawsuit filed by The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and several other organizations.
Johnson denied giving that instruction.
Depositions taken last month also show that Easley, a Democrat, used a private, secret e-mail account to conduct state business.
E-mail messages are considered public records, and the newspapers, several other newsgathering organizations and the conservative John Locke Foundation sued after it became clear messages were being deleted.
The state has sought to dismiss the lawsuit, but a judge first wanted to hear the depositions of four members of Easley's communications staff. The depositions show that the administration wanted to avoid having embarrassing information surface through e-mail messages. While key members of Easley's press staff knew Easley used a secret e-mail account, his senior press officers did not ensure that those messages were released in response to public records requests.
Easley finished his second and final term last year. Since then, federal investigators have conducted a wide-ranging investigation into the privileges and benefits that Easley's administration granted to his friends and associates. Ruffin Poole, a close aide to Easley, has been indicted on 51 counts of corruption. The State Board of Elections fined Easley's campaign $100,000 for failing to disclose campaign flights donated by friends and associates.
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