Media & Communications Law

DC Officials Admit Using Personal Email Accounts for Work Purposes

Two top officials in the District of Columbia’s financial office have admitted using personal email accounts to conduct official business.

Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi testified in a deposition last month that he “occasionally” uses his personal email account for office purposes, the Washington Post reports. Gandhi’s chief of staff, Angell Jacobs, said in a separate deposition that she sometimes used her personal email account to keep messages between her and her boss confidential.

“There may have been an issue that we wanted to discuss, but did not necessarily want it to be FOIA-able to the press and so, we would have perhaps had a conversation on personal e-mail,” she testified.

“FOIA” refers to the district’s Freedom of Information Act, under which documents, including emails, are subject to public disclosure upon request. Messages sent to or from nongovernmental accounts are still subject to the law, but they are more difficult to search.

Details from the depositions emerged last week in federal court filings in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Eric W. Payne, Gandhi’s former contracting chief. Payne alleges he was illegally dismissed after refusing to bow to political pressures surrounding the 2008 award of a lucrative city lottery contract.

A spokesman for D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said he had no comment on the Payne litigation but that the office would search personal accounts in response to FOIA or court discovery requests, subject to legal exceptions.

“More fundamentally, we strongly discourage use of personal email accounts for official business,” the spokesman said.

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