BISMARCK, ND (KXNET) — After a third-party examination of North Dakota’s state email system, it appears former Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office e-mails are long past recoverable and are likely gone forever.

That’s the conclusion of Planet Technologies, Inc., a California-based technology firm that was hired to see if there was any way to recover the contents of Stenehjem’s e-mail account and those of former Deputy Attorney General Troy Seibel.

According to a report from Planet Technologies, the e-mail accounts were through Microsoft Office 365 and stored on Microsoft’s Data Centers.

Accounts that are closed or deleted are recoverable for 30 days after the license for the account has been removed. After 30 days, the data is permanently deleted from the Microsoft system.

The North Dakota Information Technology Department first attempted to recover the e-mails months after the 30-day “soft delete” period had passed. When Planet Technologies was asked to see if the e-mails could be recovered, more than nine months had passed from the time the e-mails were deleted.

“Planet is confident in saying with 100% confidence that there is no data to be recovered for any mailbox within the Microsoft Office 365 system,” the report concludes.

In response to a KX News open records request earlier in 2022, the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office provided e-mails exchanged within the office pertaining to the deletion of late Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s state e-mail account.

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

The e-mail continues “We want to make sure no one has an opportunity to make an Open Record request for his e-mails, 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.

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 e-mail 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 e-mails after action was taken.” The document also states “lawful authority means STATUTORY authority, which the office had.”

Current North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley issued a statement along with the release of the Planet Technologies report.

“State Information Technology experts had previously informed this office that the e-mails in
question were irretrievable,” the statement reads. “While we had no reason to question their conclusion, we did ask that they hire outside consultants to make one final assessment. Planet Technologies, Inc. has now completed their evaluation, concluding that the State Information Technology Department was correct: the deleted e-mail accounts no longer exist and cannot be
resurrected.”