Jeff Parish attorney cuts off IG's access to e-mails, for now

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wwltv.com

Posted on December 9, 2013 at 7:53 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
Email: pmurphy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @pmurphywwl

METAIRIE, La. - An internal memo, distributed by Jefferson Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee says, JP Inspector General David McClintock had approximately three weeks of unrestricted access to the parish e-mail server.

Foshee said she was made of aware of what the IG was doing, last Wednesday and immediately suspended his e-mail privileges.

"An issue has arisen with the Inspector General that may affect our clients' communications with us," Foshee wrote. "While I know not all on this list serve is in an officially titled attorney position, I feel confident that you are all called upon to apply your legal skills to your positions and your supervisors communicate with you under the belief that those communications are protected by the attorney client privilege."

Foshee notified the JP Council in a letter late Monday afternoon. She wrote: "This was likely an honest mistake by the IG as the parish ordinance regarding access to records is not entirely clear."

The ordinance creating the inspector general's office states, "The office of inspector general shall have access to all records, information, data, reports, plans, projections, matters, contracts, memoranda, correspondence, audits, reviews, papers, books, documents, computer hard drives, e-mails, instant messages...."

The law doesn't specifically spell out steps the IG needs to take, to look at the electronic documents. McClintock says the law doesn't have limiting language for a reason.

"Instituting processes that require someone to view what we're looking at is problematic from its heart," said McClintock. "Who in the parish do we trust to look at my e-mails and determine what we should see and what we shouldn't see. I don't think that's where the public wants us to be. That's certainly not what I came down here for."

Foshee asked council members to consider amending the ordinance to "comply with state law and clarify that it is the parish intent to provide the broadest possible access to the IG, including his ability to use administrative subpoenas to secure records."

McClintock says subpoenas could potentially compromise his investigations. "Subpoenas are a process used by outside entities, seeking information, from another entity," said McClintock. "We are not an outside entity. We are Jefferson Parish."

Council member Ben Zahn released a statement saying, "It is my understanding this is merely two different interpretations of the same law and ordinance. Also, I have every reason to believe that a compromise is in the works, which hopefully will result in a timely resolution."

JP Council member Mark Spears says he expects to sponsor an ordinance, tightening up the language in the law as to what the OIG can look at and the steps that need to be taken to do so. He says he'll introduce the legislation at the council's January 15 meeting.

McClintock asks the council to tread lightly. "It's easy to say that we should look at other rules," said McClintock. "It's difficult to implement them in a way that doesn't serve to restrict our ability to do our job. I think we need to stay focused on that."

According to the New Orleans Inspector General's office, investigators there do not have a direct feed to city e-mails. Their procedure is to make a request to the city Information Technology department for certain e-mail. That request is made by letter or phone call. A spokeswoman for the New Orleans OIG says they have never had access issues with the city.

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