Miller admitted lies, deleted borough e-mails

DISCIPLINE: Suspension, probation in 2008 after admitting to violating ethics policy while borough attorney.

October 26, 2010 

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Joe Miller admitted in 2008 that he lied after being caught using Fairbanks North Star Borough computers for political purposes while he was working as a part-time borough lawyer.

"I lied about accessing all of the computers. I then admitted about accessing the computers, but lied about what I was doing. Finally, I admitted what I did," Miller wrote in a March 17, 2008, e-mail to Fairbanks North Star Borough Attorney Rene Broker.

Miller's admission and a disciplinary letter were among his employee records released by the Fairbanks North Star Borough on Tuesday as a result of a lawsuit by media organizations. Miller initially fought release of the documents, but state Superior Court Judge Winston Burbank ordered most of the records sought to be released, and Miller decided not to appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.

On March 12, 2008, Miller went on three of his co-workers' computers to vote in an online poll, apparently connected with his failed effort to oust Randy Ruedrich as state Republican Party chair. Miller then cleared his colleagues' computer caches to erase his tracks, in the process clearing out their passwords and saved websites.

"I acknowledge that my access to others' computers was wrong, participating in the poll was wrong, lying was wrong, and there is absolutely no excuse for any of it," Miller wrote in the 2008 e-mail admitting what he had done.

Former Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker went public this month with the fact that Miller was caught using his co-workers computers to try to topple Ruedrich. That violated borough ethics policy against using government time and equipment for political purposes.

During the campaign, Miller first refused to answer questions from reporters about it, then acknowledged he had been disciplined. He's refused to discuss the details, however and won't agree to an interview with the Daily News.

Miller was placed on administrative leave for two weeks immediately following the 2008 incident while borough investigated and decided how to punish him.

The records the borough released Tuesday include the disciplinary letter telling Miller "you were dishonest both about your conduct and the reasons for the conduct," but had then acknowledged what he'd done. "It has been apparent in the last several months that you are under significant stress and it has affected your judgment," said the letter from the borough attorney.

The March 26, 2008, disciplinary letter said Miller will be suspended for three days, put on probation for six months and be required to go to the Employee Assistance Program for an evaluation. "Finally, I expect that you will work hard to rebuild the co-worker relationships that were harmed due to your actions on March 12, 2008. It will take effort on your part to regain their trust," the letter said.

A CO-WORKER'S STATEMENT

Documents released Tuesday include a detailed description by one of Miller's co-workers of what happened.

Assistant Borough Attorney Jill Dolan wrote that she went to a meeting in the mayor's office at 1 p.m., leaving Miller alone in the legal department. When Dolan came back, she discovered her Internet search history had been cleared.

Dolan asked her co-workers if they knew what was going on, and two of them said the same thing had happened on their computers. Finally she yelled at Miller and asked him if he'd used her computer.

Miller conceded he'd been on of the other lawyers' computers "because he couldn't get to a website on his computer. He said it was no big deal."

Dolan wrote that she asked why he was on her computer, too, and he said he couldn't get the website to work.

"When I asked why he cleared our histories, he said it was because if you had been to a site before you had to clear the cache or it would be blocked sometimes. I told him that didn't make any sense ..."

Dolan wrote she then asked Miller why he used the third lawyer's computer as well. He "denied it and then when she said her history was cleared too he said 'oh yeah I was on it,' like he had just forgotten."

Dolan wrote that Miller asked that she not tell the borough attorney right away and give him 10 minutes. She said Miller then left the office and went down the back stairs, but his truck never left the parking lot. Dolan said she and someone else stood in the legal department "trying to figure out what happened and why he was acting so bizarre."

Miller returned and told them he had been voting in a poll. "He made some comments about being stressed and stupid and kept trying to justify what he did, something about (former Fairbanks borough mayor) Rhonda Boyles being on the radio and telling lies and needing evidence," Dolan wrote.

"He admitted he was on all our computers and needed to use them so an opinion poll would have different urls. He maintained the whole time he did not violate the computer use policy and that actually all of us did for not securing our computers," Dolan wrote. "I told him the door was locked and he is a confidential employee and we shouldn't have to worry about him using our computers.

"I explained to him I am not a political person and that I did not appreciate him injecting me into this mess by making it look like I voted in some poll to oust Ruedrich," Dolan wrote in her statement.

She wrote that Miller later told his co-workers he was going to contact the webmaster for the opinion poll and have the results changed back to noon, just before he used his co-workers' computers.

"At some point he told us he called the webmaster but that the webmaster was on the road and could not do it right then. I went to the site after he left for the day, joemiller.us, and it states it is hosted and designed by Joe Miller," she wrote.

Dolan wrote that she looked the next day and saw the poll was changed to give percentages instead of actual votes, and was listed as being current as of noon the prior day. "I emailed (the borough attorney) and told her I did not want Joe at work."

THE E-MAIL PURGE

Borough attorney Rene Broker said Tuesday that her understanding is that Miller was indeed voting in a poll on his own website. Broker said that, presumably, he was using polling software that required each vote to come from a separate computer but she doesn't have knowledge of that.

The Miller campaign on Tuesday did not respond to questions following release of his records. Miller has consistently downplayed the incident, calling it petty and a distraction from the issues of the race.

CNN's John King last week asked him if it was fair game to look at his history as a government attorney.

"Well, the event in question is something that happened on my time off. It was during a lunch hour, so frankly there's not a direct correlation to that," Miller responded.

Miller, as a part-time attorney, was not entitled to a lunch hour. He typically worked a 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. shift but e-mailed Dolan the day in question to say he'd be in before lunch. According to Dolan's statement, she stopped in Miller's office to talk about a judgment before going to her 1 p.m. meeting. That's when Miller snuck on his co-worker's computers to vote in the poll against Ruedrich.

The records released Tuesday also show that Miller did a mass deletion of all his borough e-mails before he resigned the job in September of last year. That left the borough scrambling to figure out how to retrieve the public records, some of which dealt with a case Miller worked on regarding property taxes on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Dolan wrote the borough attorney on Sept. 9, 2009, saying "I'm confused as to why he would do that."

"Back when we had the other issue with Joe, he had been in my office asking me lots and lots of questions about how the borough's servers work, what back ups we do, what data we store, etc.," Dolan wrote. "He said he wanted to know because he was paranoid about someone hacking into the system and that he needed to know what protections he had."

Borough attorney Broker said Tuesday that the borough eventually retrieved many of Miller's deleted e-mails from backup tapes. But she can't know for sure if all were recovered.

Broker said she was never able to figure out why Miller did the mass deletion of his e-mail before resigning. "I have asked, through his attorneys, for an explanation. I do not have his side of it; we've been trying to get his side of it," Broker said.

The records also show that Miller left the borough amid a dispute over leave and whether work that he was doing for a private client conflicted with a case the borough wanted him to handle. Broker told the Daily News on Tuesday that Miller requested time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act for an unspecified medical reason.

"Then, whatever that was, was canceled. But he still stayed out on leave. So when we heard it was canceled he was instructed to return for work," Broker said.

The Miller campaign didn't respond to questions about that or anything else regarding his employment records. But the campaign did put out a written statement, saying the media has disproportionately scrutinized Miller's personal's life.

"The Alaskan voters want to hear about the issues. That's what they deserve and I will continue to address them. I am running for the Senate because I believe that Alaskans deserve more than the status quo. The fact of the matter is, Lisa Murkowski knows her days are numbered and that change is coming to D.C. -- I represent that change," Miller said in the statement.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is running in next week's election as a write-in candidate after losing to Miller in the August Republican primary, put out a statement saying Miller's ethics violation at the borough was a serious matter. "The bottom line is Joe cheated, he lied, tried to cover it up, lied again, then finally got caught and had to admit it, just as he lied to Alaskans when he initially denied any problems with his employment at the Borough, claiming his record was 'exceptional' and 'second to none,' " Murkowski said.

Lawsuits were filed by the Alaska Dispatch and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner for the release of the material, the Daily News and Associated Press joined and the suits were combined into one case.

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