Judge Allows Access to Gov. Fletcher's E-Mail

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Some of Gov. Ernie Fletcher's electronic records may be released to prosecutors investigating the hiring practices of his administration, a judge ruled.

Prosecutors can have access to Fletcher's e-mails from his Capitol office computer, the governor's mansion and his Blackberry, according to a Thursday ruling by Special Judge William Wehr.

However, the governor's attorneys may screen certain electronic documents to determine if they should be withheld because of attorney-client or executive privilege, the ruling said.

A grand jury has been investigating whether administration officials broke state law by basing rank-and-file personnel decisions on political considerations instead of candidates' qualifications.

So far, 13 current and former members of Fletcher's administration and associates have been indicted on misdemeanor charges. After the first nine were indicted, Fletcher issued blanket pardons intended to cover all those charged in the past or future. Fletcher also has fired nine administration officials, some of whom received pardons.

Deputy Attorney General Pierce Whites said the judge's ruling would give prosecutors access to new and "highly relevant" evidence in the case.

Fletcher's attorneys have said the governor's computer server housed massive amounts of electronic documents — some dating back to another administration.

With the order, experts are supposed to conduct complete examinations on Fletcher's office and mansion computers as well as his handheld Blackberry device.

"We did not believe that there had been a thorough search done of the governor's computer," Whites said. "We are now assured of a thorough search."

The governor's office has until late February to provide the documents, Whites said. Fletcher's office said in a statement Thursday that officials would "promptly produce" them.