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By MICHAEL HAYS
La Paz County Attorney Martin Brannan’s e-mails related to case of state lawmaker Trish Groe are unavailable because he does not archive the messages, possibly a violation of Arizona state law.
Donna Hale, La Paz County Clerk of the Board, said the county lacks a written policy on e-mail retention. However, both she and county supervisors choose to retain all electronic communication.
“That’s his choice,” Hale said of Brannan. While the attorney’s computer and server are both owned by the county, La Paz’s information technology department has nothing to do with Brannan’s inability to furnish e-mails – a public record.
Liz Hill, assistant ombudsman for Arizona, said it is presumed that any work performed on a public official’s computer is public record. In the recent Arizona Supreme Court case of Griffis vs. Pinal County, a judge ruled that purely personal e-mail is not necessarily considered public record.
Hill used the example of an official sending an e-mail to his/her significant other asking them to buy milk at the store. That would be a purely personal message.
In this case, Groe and Brannan are both elected officials.
Eleven weeks have passed since State Rep. Groe, R- Lake Havasu City, was arrested after being pulled over by La Paz County Sheriff officers in Parker while driving with a 0.148 blood alcohol content.
She continues to serve in the Legislature and has not been charged with any crime due to Brannan’s refusal to prosecute the case himself. Groe did not spend any time in jail on the night of March 22; instead, she was released to a “responsible third party.”
As for Brannan’s e-mails, Arizona Revised Statute states in Title 39: “All officers and public bodies shall maintain all records … reasonably necessary or appropriate to maintain an accurate knowledge of their official activities and of any of their activities which are supported by monies from the state or any political subdivision of the state.”
In response to a public information request last month for all e-mails related to the Groe case, Brannan responded: “As you can see, it is my belief that the county does not keep records of e-mail. We have no internal retention policy for e-mail and lack the training needed to ensure compliance with such a policy if we did have one.”
A.R.S. further states: “each officer shall be responsible for the preservation, maintenance and care of that officer’s public records. It shall be the duty of each such body to carefully secure, protect and preserve public records from deterioration, mutilation, loss or destruction, unless disposed of pursuant to sections (listed).”
When Hale was asked what court officials might say if the e-mails were ever subpoenaed and Brannan was unable to provide them, she said, “They would ask why he doesn’t treat it like a paper document.”
Brannan has not responded to repeated inquiries over the past two weeks by both phone and e-mail. His secretary said he is unavailable.
An e-mail sent by Brannan to Groe just four days after her arrest surfaced last month.
“I just wanted to let you know that my having to do my job where your case is concerned will not, on my part, impact my ability to work with you as my state representative,” he wrote in a March 26 e-mail.
On April 3, Brannan transferred Groe’s case to Yuma County prosecutors, saying he had a conflict of interest.
He recently explained the conflict by saying any resolution to the case is likely to be seen by some as being overly lenient and others as being overly harsh. And it has a political component, he added.
Yuma County moved the case back to Brannan in early May, after the La Paz prosecutor made critical comments about a proposed plea agreement negotiated between Groe’s attorneys and Yuma County.
Brannan requested an opinion on his self-proclaimed conflict from both the State Bar and Attorney General’s office. He said the State Bar issued an informal opinion supporting his claim but State Bar Spokeswoman Mira Radovich said its opinions are not public records.
At the time of her arrest, Groe was traveling at 70 mph in a 55 mph zone according to the police report. She has since returned to work in Phoenix after a 30-day stint in a faith-based alcohol rehab clinic. A subsequent lab test requested by Groe showed the presence of sertraline, the drug found in antidepressant Zoloft, in addition to prescription weight loss drug phentermine.
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