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02-18-09, 11:36 PM #1
TV station to New Orleans Mayor: "Here's a public-records request for all of the Mayor's emails from last year." The Mayor: "Ah, sorry.. "
Orleans Parish Civil Court Judge Rose Ledet delivered a stinging rebuke to Mayor Ray Nagin's administration Tuesday after learning that virtually all of the e-mails sent and received by Nagin last year and much of the information on his 2008 calendar have been erased in an apparent violation of the state public records law.
Clearly disturbed by the revelation, Ledet ordered the Nagin administration to immediately halt the practice of "destroying correspondence" by the mayor and members of his executive staff.
The tense scene played out during a hearing in Ledet's court on a lawsuit filed against the Nagin administration by WWL-TV news anchor Lee Zurik, who sought the e-mails and calendar information in a public records request filed in January.
Mary Ellen Roy, an attorney for the station, told Ledet that to date, the administration has provided only 15 of Nagin's e-mails and no part of his scheduling calendar. Nagin sends and receives between 50 and 100 e-mails daily, according to information provided to WWL's attorneys by the administration.
Under the state Public Records Act, government agencies have three business days to respond to requests for information. The Nagin administration has in the past provided copies of e-mails in response to public records requests from The Times-Picayune, although often far outside of the three-day time frame allowed by law.
Deputy City Attorney Ed Washington told Ledet that he learned late Monday from officials in the city's information technology unit that nearly all of Nagin's e-mails and all calendar information prior to June 30, 2008, have been deleted and cannot be retrieved. Washington said there is no written record of the mayor's calendar, which he said exists only in electronic form.
Asked by Ledet why the city has not turned over the August-through-December portion of the 2008 calendar requested in Zurik's Jan. 4 public records request, Washington said: "We're working on that."
Ledet made it clear that she was not satisfied with the answer.
"Mr. Washington, it's wholly unacceptable for the city not to respond to a public records request in a month and a half," Ledet said. "Just to ignore it is a violation of the law."
Ledet then ordered the Nagin administration to produce those parts of the mayor's 2008 calendar that exist "by the close of business" Wednesday, along with a written explanation of what happened to information about Nagin's schedule from January through June.
The judge then took aim at Nagin's oft-stated commitment to openness.
"I heard the mayor say on television that he had the most transparent administration in the history of New Orleans," Ledet said. "I would have to take issue with that based on what I've heard today."
Ledet also took the administration to task on its decision to delete e-mails.
Washington said he discovered only the day before that the city's computer network lacks the "server space to preserve more than a few days" of e-mails."
He said Nagin and the mayor's communications director, Ceeon Quiett, both were under the impression that "backups" existed to save the electronic communications. "But that isn't the case," he said.
Under state law and rules spelled out in the city code, public records must be saved for at least three years from the date they were created.
In response to Zurik's records request, WWL's attorneys said the administration had provided hundreds of 2008 e-mails received or sent by Quiett. Washington did not explain why so many more of Quiett's e-mails were available. Zurik requested all e-mails received and sent by Nagin and Quiett from July to December.
Ledet said she found it "hard to believe" that so many of Nagin's e-mails cannot be retrieved. But if that is so, she said, the practice of deleting correspondence must stop.
"It's incumbent upon the administration that you have the ability to keep this information," Ledet said. "It's unsettling to hear, 'We just didn't do it because we don't have the space."'
Washington said the city's information technology staff has scanned the e-mail accounts of more than 50 administration officials who stay in contact with Nagin and still came up with only a few messages from 2008.
Asked by Ledet if there are more avenues to pursue, Washington replied: "We can search some more. We're making the effort and will make additional effort as the court sees fit."
Roy, the WWL attorney, said it "strains credulity" to accept the argument that the city lacks the technology to recover the deleted information.
After Washington took pains to tell the judge there was no intent by Nagin to destroy any records, Ledet said: "But it's ultimately his responsibility, Mr. Washington."
At one point, Ledet indicated she might want the city's information technology director to submit to a deposition to explain what happened.
Instead, she ordered the city to immediately refrain from "destroying any correspondence by the mayor, written, electronic or otherwise" as well as his calendar.
Ruling from the bench, Ledet also ordered the city to pay $1,500 to WWL for business-related "damages" the station maintains it suffered as a result of the administration's foot-dragging.
During a brief appearance on the witness stand, Zurik testified that he and other WWL staffers have been paid overtime while waiting on information from the city and dealing with the lawsuit. For example, Zurik said Tuesday was his normal day off.
The judge said she would schedule a later hearing to consider WWL's request for legal fees and penalties of up to $100 per day for each day the administration failed to respond to Zurik's request.
WWL news director Chris Slaughter said the $1,500 and any future payments ordered by the court will be symbolic in nature because -- in recognition of the city's dire financial straits -- the station will waive any cash awards.
Regarding the administration's claim that the e-mails WWL seeks no longer exist, Slaughter said he expects the city to honor the judge's order to conduct a more thorough search of its databases for the missing information.
"I guess if the records really are gone, they got away with destroying public records," Slaughter said. "But I think the judge's ruling was plenty punitive, and going forward the city will be required to follow the law.
"This administration likes to talk the talk about transparency, and now it's time to for them to walk the walk when it comes to public records."
02-18-09, 11:40 PM #2
My My My....wonder what the incompetent bastard is trying to hide.
Car 4I would like my country back. I used to believe that one man could never destroy this country. Not so sure anymore!
02-19-09, 03:30 AM #3Chief Wheaties PisserVerified LEO
- Join Date
- Just outside Latteland
- Rep Power
Federal laws may have been violated as well.
02-19-09, 06:02 AM #4
It's OK. Obama will fix it all for him.
02-19-09, 06:14 AM #5
IMO Ray Nagin is one of the worst criminals this country has seen. Yes, I said it. Any mayor that would order the police to disarm law-abiding citizens in a time of crisis and panic is a villan of the lowest caliber. No pun intended."If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn't thinking." -Gen. George S. Patton
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