New Castle News

February 19, 2014

Our Opinion: Examination of Sandusky case hurt by email deletions

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — How long should government keep records before throwing them away?

It’s a question that became more than academic in Pennsylvania, in light of the Jerry Sandusky saga.

Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach, is now serving time in prison after being convicted of multiple child molestation charges. He will likely spend the rest of his life in jail.

The Sandusky case has reverberated throughout the commonwealth, scarring Penn State and its legendary head football coach, Joe Paterno. Allegations have arisen that officials at Penn State and elsewhere failed for years to aggressively pursue evidence that Sandusky was a pedophile, because of his connections to the university.

Pennsylvania’s governor, Tom Corbett, has not been immune to these complaints, even though the case against Sandusky was initiated by Corbett’s office when he served as the state’s attorney general.

During her campaign for the position, current Attorney General Kathleen Kane vowed to examine the history of the Sandusky case to see if it had been handled improperly. In his defense, Corbett has said the length of the Sandusky investigation was attributed to difficulties with the case, not with Penn State politics.

Meanwhile, Kane is feeling the pressure over how long her probe of the Sandusky investigation is taking. Critics, mainly allies of the Republican Corbett, are claiming that Democrat Kane’s efforts are designed to undercut the governor, rather than any desire to uncover the truth.

Recently, it was revealed that Kane’s efforts have been hampered by a previous policy in the attorney general’s office that called for the deletion of all emails more than six months old. The policy was put in place by William H. Ryan, who served as acting attorney general after Corbett was elected governor. Priot to that, emails were kept by the office for five years.

There is no evidence that the change in policy had anything to do with the Sandusky case. Rather, Ryan told the New Castle News’ Harrisburg correspondent that it was done to save money.

Keeping old records can be burdensome. That’s particularly true for large government entities that must maintain vast amounts of data. So there is a benefit in getting rid of it after a prudent period of time.

But what’s prudent? Kane has changed her office’s policy, so that records are kept for two years. There is no specific state or national standard for retaining emails.

We don’t know if there is an ideal length of time for keeping government emails. We have no doubt that many could be deleted within weeks without impact. But for others, that would be a problem.

However, we suspect that six months is too short a time frame for keeping records. The search for records related to Sandusky proves that.