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$250 an hour to probe e-mails

By Sheryl Marsh · 340-2437

A Morgan County commissioner's quest to see e-mails from the county computer server could cost him $250 per hour for a specially appointed judge.

The judge would review the e-mails to decide which ones to release.

Circuit Judge Steve Haddock mentioned that as a possibility during a hearing Friday on District 4 Commissioner Stacy George's lawsuit.

George is suing Commission Chairman John Glasscock, District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark and David Hannah, the county's data processing manager, to gain access to the e-mails, now stored on a computer disk.

Haddock questioned whether reviewing hundreds of thousands of e-mails is a "reasonable" request.

But, he said, he could call in a retired judge to review e-mails on the server to determine which would be public record. He told George's attorney, Hubert Porter, that they should think about the cost.

After the hearing, Haddock lifted the restraining order he issued last month to keep the defendants from destroying electronic records. He said George failed to show that he “has some special or particularized right to be protected and that the preservation of the status quo will be convenient and expedient to all parties.”

Haddock also dismissed Porter’s motion to inventory the server to determine if e-mails are missing. He stated that he did so because George’s lawsuit doesn’t specify what the defendants did wrong nor what relief to which George is entitled.

Haddock left remaining George’s allegation that the defendants denied him access to a computer disk containing e-mails.

An allegation that the defendants caused George emotional distress and damaged his reputation by withholding the records also remains in the lawsuit.

Haddock gave the defendants 30 days to answer George’s remaining claims.

During Friday’s hearing Porter said Glasscock, Hannah and Clark took away a disk that contained the server e-mails and concealed it to keep George from viewing the information.

Now, he said, about 200,000 e-mails are missing or cannot be seen on the computer server.

Julian Butler, attorney for the defendants, said Porter didn’t present evidence that his clients destroyed or instructed someone to destroy the records.

Haddock asked Porter what evidence he had, and Porter’s response was that Hannah had said some e-mails are not displaying.

Porter told the judge that George is not new to accessing public records, noting that he uncovered unethical situations in county government by researching records.

Haddock denied a motion Butler filed asking for the case to be dismissed.

Haddock said the case could make county government inefficient because officials might stop conducting business by e-mail.

The root of the litigation is an e-mail scandal that began in November after someone exposed Glasscock for receiving and forwarding a sexually charged e-mail depicting naked women.

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