BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET)— In response to a KX News open records request, the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office provided emails exchanged within the office pertaining to the deletion of late Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s state email account.

The deletion of Stenehjem’s email account was set in motion at the request of Liz Brocker, who served as executive assistant to Stenehjem. In the email dated January 29th, one day after Stenehjem’s death, Brocker asks another state employee, “1st thing Monday, could you have Wayne’s email account shut down and the emails in his inbox, inbox folders, sent items- deleted.”

The email continues “We want to make sure no one has an opportunity to make an Open Record request for his emails, especially as he kept EVERYTHING.” Brocker goes on to say the request to delete Stenehjem’s account was approved by then-deputy attorney general Troy Seibel.

A message left for Seibel went unreturned, but news outlet Inforum reported him as saying he doesn’t recall any conversation regarding Stenehjem’s email account following Stenehjem’s death.

Then months later, following the announcement that current North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley would be replacing Seibel with his own deputy attorney general, Brocker directed the Attorney General’s IT department to delete Seibel’s email account.

North Dakota century code states that knowingly tampering with public records is a class C felony if a person knowingly, without lawful authority, destroys the record.

A review of a timeline of events furnished by the state Attorney General’s Office shows that around July 5th, Brocker was asked what authority she could offer for ordering the deletion of former Deputy Attorney General Seibel’s account. The timeline states that Brocker did not provide any authority.

Yet, on or around July 22nd, an unnamed staff attorney at the Attorney General’s Office determined “there was lawful authority to dispose of emails after action was taken.” The document also states “lawful authority means STATUTORY authority, which the office had”.

Emails show there were attempts to retrieve the accounts, but according to North Dakota Information Technology Department (NDIT) Deputy Chief Information Officer Greg Hoffman once the user accounts have been removed and a 30-day window has elapsed, there is no retrieving the email information from those accounts.

Other email correspondence shows another state employee stated, “ITD says that after an employee leaves, they only have 30 days to recover the employee’s email. This seems like something that should be addressed from a records retention perspective. Just my two cents, but wouldn’t it make sense to put in place some sort of records retention requirement for former employees’ email?”

Attorney General Wrigley told KX News in July that he didn’t inherit a record retention policy when he took office.

“We’re going to have a written policy. But we’re creating it right now. Because I didn’t inherit one. And we’re putting one in place,” Wrigley said at the time.

But a review of the NDIT website shows there is both a specific and general records retention schedule for the Attorney General’s Office. For instance, under the general records retention schedule, the retention of electronic communications is determined based on its content. If the message is a record that documents official business of the department, the record must be retained for the appropriate retention period.

For example, state agency correspondence should be retained, according to the general retention schedule, for two years. After that point, the correspondence should be sent to the state archivist.

“[The state archivist] has to look at that stuff to find out if there’s historic record and you’d have to agree, Wayne Stenehjem’s historic record is valuable,” State Senator Tracy Potter told Wrigley in July.

KX News left a message at a number listed for Brocker but did not hear back.

A Government Administration Committee meeting is scheduled for August 24th. There are plans to discuss the lease cost overrun that led to the discovery of the deleted emails at that meeting.