Assistant in North Dakota AG’s office quits after email flap

July 18, 2022 GMT

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — An employee in the North Dakota attorney general’s office who handled the deletion of her former boss’ email account has resigned, according to documents obtained Monday.

Administrative assistant Liz Brocker, who helped clear the email account of former attorney general Wayne Stenehjem after he died in office, said in her resignation letter Friday to current Attorney General Drew Wrigley that “I believe we both now recognize that we will not achieve the close working relationship that is vital” between the attorney general and executive assistant.

“Your vision for the future of the Office of Attorney General is exciting, and so it is with regret that I offer my resignation, with today being my last day working at the office,” Brocker wrote.

A previous open records request showed that Brocker asked for Stenehjem’s account to be deleted in an email to an information technology employee on Jan. 29, a day after he died from cardiac arrest. She wrote that the deletion was approved by Deputy Attorney General Troy Seibel.

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“We want to make sure no one has an opportunity to make an Open Record request for his emails, especially as he kept EVERYTHING,” Brocker’s email said.

Seibel told the Bismarck Tribune when the deletion was first reported that he didn’t recall a conversation about Stenehjem’s email account. He also said it could have been deleted as standard procedure for someone leaving the office.

Seibel’s email account was also deleted in May, two months after Seibel quit following Wrigley’s stated plans to appoint his own deputy,

It’s not clear whether the deletions were proper. North Dakota law makes tampering with public records a felony if a public official “knowingly, without lawful authority, destroys, conceals, removes, or otherwise impairs the verity or availability of a government record.”

Jack McDonald, a Bismarck attorney who specializes in open records laws, said a key question was whether those involved in the deletions had the authority to do so.

Wrigley declined comment to The Associated Press other than to say that the documents released Monday speak for themselves. A phone number for Brocker could not be obtained.

The revelation of the deleted emails was made public last week when Wrigley responded to open records requests about a $1.8 million cost overrun on the lease for the attorney general’s office when Stenehjem was in charge. Wrigley had to explain in his response why certain information was not available.

Seibel resigned in March after it became clear that Wrigley was going to hire his own deputy attorney general. Brocker said in a July 15 document that information technology contacted her to delete Seibel’s email account “as a matter of routine.”