By: Paul Foy, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Four news organizations have asked Gov. Mike Leavitt to preserve for the public record all government e-mails, which his lawyer says are routinely deleted.
The policy violates Utah’s government records act, the organizations said Wednesday. Leavitt, a Republican, promotes Utah as a “wired” state and does almost all of his correspondence by e-mail.
Lawyers for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, and television stations KUTV and KTVX said they would sue if the governor continued to destroy government e-mails.
The state’s Government Records Access Management Act requires that all records produced or received by public officials be preserved. The definition of a public record includes “electronic data or other documentary materials regardless of physical form.”
Last year, the Tribune asked the governor’s office to release its paper and digital correspondence concerning the redrawing of Utah’s political districts.
Leavitt’s lawyer, Gary Doxey, turned down the newspaper’s request and said he advised the governor to adopt a policy of routinely destroying e-mails, many of which Doxey said were personal.
“First of all, he shouldn’t be deleting anything on official business,” Tribune Editor Jay Shelledy said Thursday. “His personal stuff is not something we’re after.”
Calls by The Associated Press to Leavitt’s spokeswoman and counsel weren’t immediately returned Thursday.
The news organizations asked Leavitt to turn over copies of his policy on digital records. Their letter also made a second demand for copies of any of the governor’s preserved e-mail that fits the definition of a public record.
“E-mail communication has really taken the place of many forms of communication — phone calls, letters — so what you have here is what amounts to state documents,” City Weekly Managing Editor Chris Smart said. “Those e-mails belong to the taxpayers and the voters.”
Lawyers for the news organizations gave Leavitt a “short window of time” to reconsider his policy of destroying e-mails “without legal unpleasantries.” A copy of the letter also was e-mailed to Leavitt.
“It would be prudent for your office to immediately cease deleting e-mailed public records if for no other reason than the preservation of potential evidence,” the letter reads.