PUBLIC INFORMATION -- A judge has ordered Riverside County not to destroy a
variety of email messages that are more than 45 days old—a purging practice
strongly opposed in a lawsuit brought by a union representing 6,000 county
employees, reports the Desert Sun in Palm Springs.

Riverside
County Superior Court Judge Mac R. Fisher's injunction was sought by
Service Employees International Union, Local 721, to which nurses, 911
dispatchers, social workers, accountants and a number of other workers
in county government belong.

Local 721 has been sparring
with the county for several years over the level of pension benefits
for temporary employees and whether the roughly 1,000 temporary workers
should have the right to collective representation, primarily by SEIU.

In
May, the board approved a policy mandating that email messages
generated on county computers be destroyed after 45 days unless the
messages contained business-related communication that might be
disclosed under the California Public Records Act.

According
to county guidelines, messages that are clearly personal in nature, are
composed as initial drafts or contain ``pre-decisional'' information,
such as recommendations or opinions, generally are eligible for purging
after 45 days.

Local 721 spokesman Michael Soller said
when SEIU learned about the new county policy, the union filed a
lawsuit to challenge its implementation.

According to county spokeswoman Lys Mendez, the policy was set to go into effect this month.

In
November, lawyers for SEIU sent a ``cease and desist'' letter to the
board, which had intended to start destroying emails after three days,
according to a copy of that letter acquired by City News Service.

The
union argues that all county business emails should be counted as part
of the public record, and retaining them is an inexpensive way to
provide disclosure to the public.

``It is essential that
county government do its business in the open,'' said SEIU Local 721
Regional Director Steve Matthews. ``Destroying public records should
set off alarms for anybody who cares about open government.''

The
county has a ``legal hold'' policy that prevents email messages that
may be subpoenaed for current or anticipated litigation from being
purged.

According to the county policy, email messages are
part of a ``transitory communications'' system not designed for
perpetual archiving. Emails with a policy-setting connection should be
printed out and preserved on paper, according to the county.