Local Politics

Records lawsuit reveals Easley's secret e-mail account

Posted February 3, 2010 5:33 p.m. EST

— Former Gov. Mike Easley sometimes used a secret e-mail account to conduct state business, according to a longtime staffer who testified as part of a public records lawsuit.

By law, e-mails about public business are supposed to be public record. Several media outlets sued in 2008 over access to e-mails to and from Easley's office after some state workers claimed that staffers were told to routinely delete sensitive e-mail.

In her deposition in the lawsuit, Sherri Johnson, who served as Easley's communications director, told media attorneys that the former governor used a private e-mail account to conduct some state business and that only a few top staffers could access it.

The Carolina Journal supplied WRAL News with a copy of Johnson's deposition. The newspaper, which is one of the media outlets participating in the suit, is part of the conservative John Locke Foundation.

Johnson testified that Easley's e-mail account was under the name "Nick Danger" spelled backwards.

Nick Danger was a detective character created by a 1970s comedy troupe. Johnson said it was spelled backwards because of Easley's dyslexia.

The account never turned up in previous public records requests for e-mails to and from the governor's office.

Johnson denied that she instructed staffers to routinely delete e-mails, but she confirmed that Easley's legal counsel, Reuben Young, who now heads the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, advised staff to use phone calls instead of e-mail for sensitive information.

Easley also faces state and federal criminal investigations into his dealings with friends and contributors while in office.

A federal grand jury last month indicted former Easley aide Ruffin Poole on extortion, bribery, racketeering, mail fraud and money laundering charges. The indictment alleged that Poole accepted gifts and invested in coastal real estate from Easley donors while shepherding their projects through regulatory approvals.