Judge won't reconsider decision on private e-mail accounts

March 11, 2010 

JUNEAU -- An Alaska judge has refused to reconsider his ruling that state law doesn't forbid the use of private e-mail accounts to conduct state business.

The decision stems from a 2008 public records case that showed then-Gov. Sarah Palin and members of her staff had been using private e-mail accounts.

Activist Andree McLeod sued, arguing that Palin and the governor's office had a duty to save as public records e-mails related to state business, regardless of the accounts that messages were sent through.

But Superior Court Judge Patrick McKay said McLeod, in seeking to have McKay reconsider his finding, "rehashes" arguments she'd previously raised.

A document doesn't become a record under state law unless it's preserved or appropriate for preservation, McKay said in his March 2 ruling.

If an employee deliberately doesn't save a document related to official business, that employee is breaking the law, he said. But employees are given some discretion under the law in deciding what to save or discard, McKay wrote.

"We realize that under the current law, e-mails that should be preserved can disappear, thus hiding 'bad motives,' but it is not this court's role to overturn an unambiguous, properly enacted law," McKay wrote.

McLeod's attorney, Don Mitchell, said Thursday morning that he'd been out of town and hadn't reviewed the decision. He has said McLeod could appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Palin's personal e-mail account, on which she conducted some state business, was hacked in 2008 when she was the Republican vice presidential candidate.

The attorney for a University of Tennessee student accused of hacking into the account on Wednesday challenged search warrants in the case. Wade Davies, attorney for David C. Kernell, questioned a magistrate's authority to issue search warrants for Internet companies outside Tennessee.

Palin quit as Alaska governor in July.

Her replacement, Gov. Sean Parnell, banned Palin's e-mail practices. In the event an official can't use the state e-mail system, they must forward a copy of the e-mail from their personal account to the state for archiving.

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