State scrambles to gather private e-mails

Lisa DemerAlaska Dispatch News

The state is bustling to try to comply with a court order issued today that requires Gov. Sarah Palin and everyone else in the governor's office to preserve all e-mails issued from private accounts that concern state business.

The state didn't fight activist Andree McLeod's request for a temporary restraining order to force Palin, the GOP vice presidential nominee, and her office to hold onto the private e-mails, said Mike Mitchell, an assistant attorney general. Anchorage Superior Court Judge Craig Stowers ruled largely for McLeod after a hearing today.

"We entered into the hearing ... willing to work to preserve those e-mails that do relate to state business that may have been sent to or from private accounts to the extent they can be preserved at this point," Mitchell said.

The state is going to try 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.

McLeod, a former state employee who has run for office several times, filed a lawsuit against Palin over the governor's use of private e-mail, outside the secure state system.

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. Mitchell said he believed the practice was minimal.

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

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