Politics & Government

Judge: Palin must preserve e-mails on private accounts

ANCHORAGE — An Alaska state judge on Friday ordered Gov. Sarah Palin to preserve e-mails she's sent from or received at private e-mail accounts until a lawsuit demanding that the e-mails be made public is resolved.

Superior Court Judge Craig Stowers issued the order in response to a lawsuit by Alaskan Andree McLeod, who questioned the legality of the governor's use of private e-mail accounts to conduct state business.

Stowers refused McLeod's request that Palin be ordered not to use private e-mail accounts to conduct state business. But he granted her request that the governor and ehr office be ordered to preserve any e-mails and documents attached to them that were sent or received from ehr private e-mail accounts.

"Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the office of the governor of Alaska … are ordered to preserve all e-mails (including attachments thereto) sent between December 4, 2006, and the resolution of this litigation," Stowers wrote.

Palin's use of private e-mail accounts have been the subject of controversy in Alaska out of concern that the use of such accounts would allow Palin to skirt state laws requiring the preservation and release of the e-mails under state law.

Similar disputes have also embroiled the Bush administration after it was revealed two years ago that White House officials often used private e-mail accounts for conducting public business. Those e-mails were not tracked by software intended to preserve government records.

The state scrambled to comply with the order, which covered not just Palin but all employees of the governor's office. The state was trying to find out which governor's office employees used private e-mails for state business and then try to preserve those e-mails and pull them into the state's e-mail system, he said.

Palin had at least two private Yahoo accounts and used one for state business. A couple of other employees in the governor's office, Ivy Frye and Frank Bailey, also used private e-mail accounts for state work at times.

But it's not clear how widespread the practice has been. Close to 90 people have worked in the governor's office since Palin took office in December 2006, counting those in the Office of Management and Budget and the lieutenant governor's office. Mike Mitchell, an assistant attorney general, said he believed the practice was minimal.

Palin's Yahoo accounts were canceled in September after a Tennessee college student reset her password, got into one of the accounts and posted screen shots of her inbox and a couple of messages on a publicly available Web site.

Separate from the Yahoo accounts, Bailey set up another private e-mail system this spring for Palin and some of her insiders, according to the Washington Post.

Mitchell said he'll have to work with the governor's office and the technical support staff to figure out how to pursue the e-mails that may still be in the possession of Yahoo or other e-mail service providers.

According to Yahoo, once a user deletes an e-mail, "the actual message content may take a couple of days to a couple of months to be completely eliminated from our storage facilities."

Any recovered e-mails will be released in response to requests for public information, if they are not otherwise exempt, Mitchell said. McLeod and others have been seeking Palin's e-mails.

Related stories from McClatchy DC