Former Gov. Mike Easley kept a private e-mail account that he used for state business.
Easley's former communications director Sherri Johnson testified in a deposition that Easley kept the secret account and used it for state business. Johnson was being deposed as part of a public records lawsuit filed by The N&O, The John Locke Foundation and several other news media outlets over access to e-mail messages.
The news organizations sued after some public information officers in state government said Easley's administration routinely deleted e-mail communication and advised other state public
information officers to do the same. The state's public records law says that e-mail messages are public records no different than other state documents.
A judge allowed the news organizations to depose members of Easley's press staff before he decides on whether to dismiss the case.
Scores of public records requests to Easley's office by The N&O over his two terms as governor have never turned up an e-mail message from Easley's private account.
The address: "Nick Danger" spelled backwards. The name was likely a reference to the fictional, satirical private eye. The backwards part was because Easley's learning disability left him writing backwards, Johnson testified.
"The governor wrote backwards. I mean, when he wrote, he wrote backwards," Johnson said, according to a transcript of the deposition.
Johnson denied telling public information officers for state agencies to delete e-mail messages to the governor's office. Notes taken by two PIOs during a meeting suggest PIOs were told to delete messages to and from the governor's office.
Johnson testified that officials were encouraged to use the telephone, rather than an e-mail account, to handle sensitive issues.
"Reuben Young, our legal counsel expressed to me that he believed a more appropriate form of communication, if a subject matter was very sensitive, would be, first, pick up the phone and call," Johnson said. "We dealt with some very sensitive issues that — when you look in the e-mail guidelines, it says e-mails are — as — it's like a postcard. And some of the issues just were — were better to be handled just by picking up the phone and — and — and letting us know.
"And sometimes we would just say, 'Oh, just send us an e-mail,' you know, depending on what it was. You know, just let us know. But we asked them to call us first."
More depositions in the case are expected to be made public today.