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February 14, 2014

Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office started dumping emails sooner in midst of grand jury probe of Jerry Sandusky

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Kathleen Kane said one of her predecessors changed office policy to shorten the period before emails are deleted in the midst of the grand jury investigation into allegations against Jerry Sandusky.

Prior to the February 2011 rule change, employees in the Office of Attorney General had been keeping emails for five years, according to a timeline provided to CNHI on Friday.

But in February 2011, a month after Penn State officials appeared before the grand jury, employees in the attorney general’s office began to delete emails after six months. That decision came while the office was being led by Acting Attorney General William H. Ryan, who had served as as then-Attorney General Tom Corbett's first deputy attorney general. By the time Ryan made that decision, Corbett was serving as governor.

Ryan is now serving as chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, a position that pays $150,006 a year.

Ryan said the decision to change to a six-month retention period was done to save money. The move came after consulting with senior staff and information technology experts in the attorney general’s office, he said.

“It had nothing to do with the Sandusky investigation,” he said.

The governor did not direct the policy change, according to Ryan.

“I doubt the governor even knows I did it,” he said.

A spokesman in Corbett’s office agreed, saying the governor had no role in the decision.

“The attorney general is an independent office,” Corbett press secretary Jay Pagni said.

Kane has said the practice of deleting emails significantly slowed her office’s review into the timing of the Sandusky investigation.

After Kane was elected, running on a platform in which she pledged to re-examine the handling of the Sandusky allegations, the attorney general’s office halted the six-month deletion policy at Kane’s request.

The attorney general’s office now requires that emails must be kept for two years.

Kane has said she’s limited in what she can say about the case because information must be vetted by the supervising judge for the grand jury that recommended charges against Sandusky and three Penn State administrators. Her office said Friday that no information beyond the timeline could be provided.

The practice of deleting emails after a set period of time seems to contradict practices at most state agencies. But, state archivist Dave Haury said, the attorney general and the auditor general — as independent officials — largely get to set their own rules.

Most state agencies make a distinction between important documents and those that no longer serve a public purpose, Haury said. Regardless what time period is used in a retention policy, it could be problematic if documents are deleted while they are still relevant, he said.

“There could be issues that play out over three years,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to delete the early emails and then not be able to determine what you said at the beginning.”

John Finnerty reports from Harrisburg for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.’s Pennsylvania papers, which include The Meadville Tribune.


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