Friday, July 31, 2009 | 9:54 a.m.
CARSON CITY – The state Attorney General’s Office says that Gov. Jim Gibbons personal e-mails on a state computer are not public records.
“Materials that are personal in nature, or that do not concern the public business, are not subject to a public records request,” says James Spencer, chief of staff in the attorney general’s office.
He filed a brief with the Nevada Supreme Court in opposition to the request by the Reno Newspapers Inc., to look at all the e-mails sent by Gibbons on the state computer system from January to June in 2008.
District Judge Todd Russell of Carson City ruled that six of the 104 e-mails in question were public records. The state turned over the six documents to the newspaper which has appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the Russell decision.
The newspaper and its political reporter Anjeanette Damon also asked for a log showing the identity of all the senders, all recipients, the date and subject of the message and reason for denial of access.
Spencer said in his brief that the “State has no pre-litigation duty to create the index of e-mails requested by RGJ (Reno Gazette Journal.)” He asked the Supreme Court to uphold the ruling of Russell who denied the request for the index.
The attorney said “An e-mail kept on a state computer which is personal and which does not facilitate public access to vital government activities is not a public record,” within the meaning of the law.
He said a state committee on the retention and disposition of official state records voted in 2003 that “Personal messages are not public records and may be deleted immediately after receipt.”
Spencer wrote that “It is the nature and purpose of the document, not the location where it is kept, which determines its status” as a public record
The newspaper, in asking the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling of Judge Russell, said “This coverage is important to the public as it provides a main source of information regarding the activity of government officials and the trust worthiness of those officials and their suitability to maintain public office.
Judge Russell ordered Gibbons to turn over e-mails on re-appointment of members of the Athletic Commission; a directive on Capitol Police; a decision on the open meeting law; a directive to the Nevada Military Blue Ribbon Committee; a note on the Council of Economic Advisors and a message that “constitutes a decision made after deliberation.”
The Supreme Court has not set a hearing date on the case.