ND leaders weigh consequences of deleted AG’s emails

Published: Jul. 19, 2022 at 6:11 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Late Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s longtime executive assistant Liz Brocker resigned Friday after records showed she requested Stenehjem’s email account deleted a day after he died in late January.

According to documents obtained by the Associated Press on Monday, Stenehjem’s assistant asked for his account to be deleted the day after he died from cardiac arrest. Tuesday, Your News Leader spoke to government and Democratic officials about what could come of the sudden deletion of emails.

The former Attorney General’s deleted emails have caused a stir.

”If you have a trusted employee that within 24 hours of a death is knee-jerking to deleting troves of data, it just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s not transparent, it’s not accountable. Really, honestly, it borderlines, if not even stepping into the realm, of being a conspiracy to hide something,” said Patrick Hart, chairman for the state Democratic-NPL party.

As Dem-NPL leaders explore possible legal actions, Republican lawmakers plan to explore legislative action to avoid future situations like this.

”This is going to be addressed. We’re going to take a look at this one way or another and determine why they were deleted, should they have been deleted, and maybe develop a policy to go into the future,” said Senator Jerry Klein, assistant majority leader in the North Dakota Senate.

As for what laws Brocker might’ve broken, Century Code Section 54-46-07 says: “All records made or received by... public officials.... are the property of the state and may not be mutilated, destroyed, transferred, removed, sold, or otherwise damaged or disposed of.”

”Any government official or employee who deals in legal matters would likely have emails that would need to be preserved, likely permanently, to follow records retention policies and preserve records that may be needed in future legal matters,” said Legislative Council Director John Bjornson.

ND Information Technology did not immediately reply when asked for a comment Tuesday.

The matter of the deleted emails came to light in early July after an open records request was filed relating to a $1.8 million construction cost overrun by the Attorney General’s office for a leased building in south Bismarck. Your News Leader will keep you updated on this story as it progresses.

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