ANCHORAGE - A judge ruled yesterday that the Alaska governor’s office can use private e-mail accounts to conduct state business, as former governor Sarah Palin sometimes did.
Superior Court Judge Jack W. Smith said in his ruling that there is no provision in Alaska state law that prohibits the use of private e-mail accounts when conducting state business.
The case stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Anchorage resident Andree McLeod, who contended such use of private e-mails denies citizens the right to inspect public records.
“I’m stunned,’’ she said after the decision. “I’m stunned that something as simple as ‘no private e-mails should be used for state business’ has become such a complicated issue.’’
State lawyers argued that McLeod misinterpreted current state law and that if the practice is to be changed, it is up to Alaska lawmakers.
Smith agreed with the state’s premise that public records are defined as those preserved for their informational value, or to document a public agency’s operation or organization, and that current open records law doesn’t specifically deal with private e-mails.
Mike Mitchell, an assistant attorney general, called the ruling a “very well-reasoned decision.’’
A bill introduced in the state House earlier this year addresses the issue. It would require a public officer to take or withhold official action through an e-mail system operated and maintained by the state.
Palin occasionally had used private e-mail accounts to conduct state business, and her
It was not widely known that Palin and her staff were using private e-mail accounts until McLeod filed the first of several open records requests. Alaska officials subsequently redacted much in the e-mails, citing privacy reasons.
Palin resigned as governor last month.