Wait goes on for Palin e-mails

RECORDS: State says it's overwhelmed, but critics cry foul.

October 7, 2009 

Public records requests made more than a year ago for Sarah Palin's e-mails still haven't been filled by the state, and the Alaska Democratic Party chairwoman alleges it's an attempt to bury the past.

"I think they're hiding something, I think this is a travesty of justice," state Democratic Party Chairwoman Patti Higgins said Wednesday. "The law says they have 10 days to do it."

Public records in Alaska are generally supposed to be provided within 10 days, although the state can extend the deadline for more complicated requests.

State officials say this is no cover-up, but rather a case of massive requests that have overwhelmed the state's resources. Assistant Attorney General David Jones said the 11 largest public-records requests from last year remain unfilled; most of them, he said, require the review of between 2,900 and 30,000 documents.

"Because of the large volume of records involved, we have pulled lawyers and paralegals from other assignments to assist with the effort. Unfortunately, it's a very time-consuming process," he said.

The lawyers review the documents to decide what to release to the public. Records can be withheld for reasons like an individual's privacy or for "deliberative process" -- an executive privilege generally limited to the governor and close advisers, covering internal deliberations before a decision is made.

The records requests came during the heat of last year's presidential campaign from news organizations such as the Associated Press and MSNBC, as well as the Alaska Democratic Party and citizen activists. Then-Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican Party candidate for vice president at the time, resigned as governor in July and Sean Parnell took her place.

Parnell's office this week asked the attorney general for another extension, which is expected to be granted. The request came after Jones said the documents wouldn't be ready by the latest deadline of Nov. 30. "At this point, we are uncertain how long it will take to complete the review process ... despite our staff's best efforts, we still have a significant number of records to review," he wrote.

Democratic Party Chairwoman Higgins said she'll meet with the Alaska Civil Liberties Union to see if the ACLU would be willing to file a lawsuit seeking to force the state to produce the records, which she requested on Sept. 22, 2008. State officials said her request involves reviewing about 21,000 documents.

Higgins said she also worries the state will black out much of the information and charge large fees. "The other threat that the state is giving us is that this may cost us up to half a million dollars," she said, promising to sue if that turns out to be the case.

In the request, Higgins sought Palin's schedules and calendars between Jan. 1, 2007, and Sept. 15, 2008. The Democrats also sought various categories of e-mails for about the same time period, including:

• All e-mails between Palin and state Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, or between Palin and state Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, with the words "abortion" or "AGIA," which is short for the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act.

• All e-mails from Palin containing the following words: babysitter, childcare, McCain, Obama, Democrat, Huckabee, Wal-Mart, Eskimo, Natives, Kuwait, passport, Ruedrich or Kopp.

• All e-mails between Palin and her husband, Todd, with any of the following words: vote, veto, budget, oil, Monegan or Wooten.

• All e-mails between Palin and her sister, Molly McCann, with the words Wooten or Monegan (referring to figures connected with the so-called "Troopergate" affair.)

Another of the pending requests is by Anchorage activist Andree McLeod, who made a request on Oct. 1, 2008, for all of Sarah and Todd Palin's e-mails concerning official business for the previous two years. McLeod reacted to the latest extension by writing state officials Wednesday that "it now seems Governor Parnell needs to keep Alaskans in the dark."

Jones said "we continue to work hard" to complete review of the records requests.


Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call him at 257-4344.

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