DN Editorial: Off the record

Posted: June 25, 2014

ATTORNEY General Kathleen Kane has released an exhaustive investigation of her predecessor's handling of the Jerry Sandusky case, and the results should provide her with a valuable lesson: If you're going to accuse a former attorney general of political motivation in his handling of a case, you risk having your own accusations seem, well, politically motivated - especially if you made those allegations the centerpiece of your own campaign, and the overall results of the report show no evidence that politics played a part.

The 334-page report found delays and lapses in the investigation of Sandusky, but no evidence that Tom Corbett slowed down the investigation in order to better secure the Governor's Office.

The report isn't easy to digest, not just because it delves into the often tedious process of investigation, but because it revisits details of the horrific story of a predator victimizing children.

Frankly, though, we had a hard time getting past the first 10 pages, because of the presence of a huge red flag on the inner workings of some branches of the state government. The investigation,which took 16 months, hit a roadblock when it was discovered that many emails related to the Sandusky investigation had been deleted. During the span of time between Corbett leaving the Attorney General's Office and Kathleen Kane being elected, acting Attorney General William Ryan changed the office's email retention policy from five years to six months. Citing concerns about the cost of storing high volumes of emails, all emails older than six months were deleted, including those pertaining to the Sandusky case. They were recovered only because of the dogged work of one of the attorney general's agents who was able to piece them together, but the process certainly added time to the investigation.

How an acting attorney general was able to make such a significant, and potentially damaging, change in policy bears questioning. (Kane changed it again when she took office, to two years.) The Attorney General's Office is one of the few state offices that do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Governor's Office, and so is able to determine its own documents retention policy. For the rest of state government, the Office of Administration oversees such policies, establishing how long records must be retained. (After expiring, retained documents move to the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.) The Office of Open Records oversees records subject to public scrutiny.

Given the marvels of technology and the ever-evolving method for storing data, shouldn't we be erring on the side of caution when it comes to retaining sensitive documents and records? Just last week, for example, the Daily News highlighted the problems of a nonprofit with ties to state Rep. Louise Bishop. The nonprofit received millions of dollars to create a commercial corridor, but it was unclear exactly how much because many of the contracts had been destroyed under the state's retention policy.

Some of the state's policies and systems are holdovers of another time. The Senate State Government Committee should review the current policies and budgets for retaining the records of the people's business.

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