Judge to consider dismissal of lawsuit over Palin e-mails

Richard Mauer

An Anchorage judge said Tuesday he will rule soon on whether state public records law governs the thousands of e-mail messages that former Gov. Sarah Palin and her top administration officials sent to one another outside of the state's computer network.

Citizen activist Andrée McLeod has been seeking copies of the messages. She says in a lawsuit that Palin and her officials violated the public records law by using off-the-record networks to communicate about state policy and matters of public concern.

Gov. Sean Parnell banned his predecessor's e-mail practices after taking office in July, but the Attorney General's office is fighting McLeod's lawsuit. Assistant Attorney General Michael Mitchell has asked state Superior Court Judge Patrick McKay to dismiss the case.

After hearing arguments Tuesday from Michael Mitchell and McLeod's attorney, Don Mitchell, McKay took the motion to dismiss under advisement. He said he'll probably reach a decision after the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Michael Mitchell argued that it would be inappropriate to declare that every line of e-mail or shred of paper produced in the operation of government is an official state record. State officials entrusted with conducting public business should be able to judge what is and is not a public record subject to disclosure, he said.

And if non-state e-mail servers like Google Mail or Yahoo are to be banned for state business because they put messages out of reach of citizen requests, that should be a matter for the Alaska Legislature to decide, not a court, Michael Mitchell said.

But Don Mitchell said McLeod was not seeking every e-mail ever sent by a state official, so that argument was irrelevant. And he said that current laws governing open records and record archiving already imply that public records can't be produced and maintained outside of state control, as was the case with Palin's Yahoo mail account, and he urged McKay to enforce that idea.

Gov. Parnell's policy says that if state officials find they're in a situation where they can't use the state e-mail system, they're required to forward a copy of the e-mail from their personal account to the state for archiving, according to Michael Mitchell.

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