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Behind the firewall

Columbia County turns over thousands of hard copy printouts and electronic files amassed on Columbia County Comissioner Joe Corsiglia's office computer

Scappoose attorney Michael Sheehan doesn't think he got his money's worth in the stack of papers and arcane electronic data given to him in response to his public records request filed in January.

In that request, Sheehan was seeking Columbia County Commissioner Joe Corsiglia's Internet and e-mail histories.

In March, after a confusing melee that involved Columbia County Undersheriff Gerry Simmon's seizure of Corsiglia's computer, storage of it as evidence in a nonexistent investigation, the computer's later return, and Sheehan's payout of more than $700, the county followed through on the request.

Sheehan, a staunch liberal Democrat and - some would say - activist attorney who is not shy of his willingness to share the documents with the press, nor in his political dislike for Corsiglia, said the most compelling part of the provided records is what is not included.

There are no documents dating earlier than October 2007, though his Jan. 18 public record's request asked various electronic forms of communication, such as e-mails and Web browsing history, going back to August 2005.

A bulk of the information provided to Sheehan in hardcopy format is dated mostly in February and March of this year.

Oregon public records law identifies electronic communication, such as e-mail, as a public record, and spells out protocol for how public records should be managed and - when legally allowable - destroyed.

Columbia County additionally hosts its own e-mail policy that defines various types of e-mail, including personal, work-related requiring a response, and spam or transitory e-mails, the latter consisting of correspondence such as reminders and listserv messages.

The county policy states that e-mails requiring a response are 'almost always public records in relation to access and retention.'

Among the documents provided to Sheehan there is little evidence the letter and spirit of the law is being met.

'Almost none of it is from the period of my request. I thought that's a little odd, and so virtually everything is from a period after Mr. Corsiglia would have known there had been a request made,' Sheehan said.

Sheehan had additionally anticipated that a listing of deleted or omitted files would be included as part of the record, though he received none.

Commissioner Rita Bernhard said on Monday that she knew when Sheehan's request was received at the county commissioners' office, where such requests are typically filed and where Sheehan's request remained for several days prior to being processed.

The county delivered to Sheehan more than 2,000 paper documents, all printouts of e-mails captured from Corsiglia's computer after it was returned to the county following the layover in the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.

Jean Ripa, who works as the director for the county's IT Department, said she was able to collect Corsiglia's e-mails and Web history stored within the county network when she was finally able to process the request, a period after the computer was returned to the county from the Sheriff's Office after a two-week layover.

The county's IT system retains e-mails on a 30-day cycle. Even after e-mails are deleted from a user file, the deleted files are saved in various folders for up to 150 days before being purged out of the network. There are ways, however, for each user on the network to prematurely purge files before hitting the automatic deletion period at the 150-day mark, Ripa said.

Once deleted, the e-mails are essentially gone for good. Unless, that is, the recipient has adequately archived the files, something Ripa said county employees have been instructed to do.

'Employees have been trained on what the public records requirements are and what they need to do,' Ripa said.

Another option to retrieve deleted data is through an exhaustive registry search, a specialty field that would incur considerable expense.

If an employee failed to retain e-mails as public records, that employee would likely be contacted and get a refresher course on how to do so, and in extreme situations, that employee could be reprimanded, she said.

But county commissioners largely live by their own rules. Though Ripa said the county policies apply to everyone, including elected officials, there is no recourse the county can impose against an elected county commissioner who simply fails to follow the established policies.

'The county itself as an employer has no recourse,' she said.

Whether Corsiglia was ever asked for hard copy or saved versions of e-mails deleted from the system is unclear. No one involved in processing the request has taken responsibility for actually asking Corsiglia for the missing files. A Spotlight phone message left for Corsiglia on Monday was not returned.

Corsiglia's computer was seized in February by Simmons, who at the time said he was being urged by Corsiglia to take control of the computer for a forensic examination.

Sheehan said a second and no-less important function of his request was to champion the Oregon public record's law.

'I put to you, that if people don't ask for the records on a regular basis, you are not going to get those rules enforced,' Sheehan said. 'You've got to work those rules. There has to be requests now and again.'

'The government does not belong to them. It belongs to us,' he said. 'This fight has been a fight since the beginning of our country.'

File review

Electronic data found on Columbia County Commissioner Joe Corsiglia's office computer shows that his computer was used at some point to search the Oregon sex offender registry system for Thomas Fisher, the son of his opponent in the upcoming May primary election.

The finding is some ways lends credence to a claim made by Earl Fisher, who is challenging Corsiglia to run as the Democrat for a seat on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, that Corsiglia was attempting to dig up political dirt against him headed into the May primary.

E-mails provided to the Spotlight by Fisher show that Corsiglia in May sent Tom Fuller, a Port Westward consultant, information on Fisher's son. Those e-mails were not present in records provided to Scappoose attorney Michael Sheehan, who was requesting Corsiglia's e-mail and Web browser histories going back to 2005.

Some critics of Fisher have said that it was Fisher, and not Corsiglia, that exposed his son to public scrutiny as a political tactic. The search echoes found on Corsiglia's computer poke holes in that line of thought.

'Apparently, what has happened, is someone has searched for the son's name,' said Peter Constantine, a computer analyst and founder of Data Discovery, a Beaverton-based business specializing in computer forensics.

In a telephone conversation with the Spotlight, Constantine briefly provided possible reasons to explain some of the information discovered on Corsiglia's computer.

Regarding the Web images discovered, Constantine explained that every time a Web site is accessed, all of the images hosted on that Web site are automatically downloaded into the computer.

'That's not necessarily anything negative against the user,' he said. 'In other words, the user might not have purposefully downloaded those pictures. The computer did.'

That said, there is a fairly strong assurance that the computer user had accessed a particular Web site that would have hosted the images.

The Web information shows that Corsiglia, or someone using Corsiglia's computer, had typed in the name of Fisher's son.

'We can't tell looking at that stuff that he pushed the keys,' Constantine said. 'We can tell whose profile was open, whose user name was open, but because we weren't there when the keys were pressed, we can't tell who.'

There was no unauthorized access to Corsiglia's computer during the three-day period in October when he alleged that someone had tampered with his computer, according to county records. Corsiglia's allegation of tampering was triggered by his return from a training exercise to discover the rocker switch moved into the OFF position in the back of his computer.

Thomas Fisher's name appears in the search field of the state's sex offender registry system in a folder of Corsiglia's workstation files compiled as part of a public records request submitted by Sheehan.

Corsiglia's computer was also used to search sex offender registration systems in other states, including Maryland and Mississippi. Thomas Fisher had pleaded guilty to a sex offense for responding to an e-mail to have sex with a 15-year-old girl while serving as a U.S. Marine in Virginia.

Discovery of Thomas Fisher's name in the files, which are difficult to date without a thorough forensic analysis of the contents, is one oddity among many in Corsiglia's computer files. Other findings include:

u Forms used to comment on stories in the Willamette Week, and corresponding stories about Sen. Betsy Johnson's ethics problems associated with Scappoose airport deals.

u Frequent visitation to the American Civil Liberties Union Web site.

u Visitation to www.friendfinder-.com, a personals Web site. Images found corresponding to this site include adultfriendfinder-.com,passion.-com and lesbianpersonals-.com.

u An extensive following of the debate surrounding liquefied natural gas, including Web blog sites, and LNG's possible presence in Oregon. Specifically, the content focuses on proposal to build such a site at Bradwood Landing in Clatsop County.

u Frequent searches for products designed to improve the operation of an Internet business, including sites such as RevenueScience (revsci-.com), Popup.doc and profitpeelers-.com.

u Repeated visitation to the eBay online trading site. Constantine said it is difficult to trace exactly how eBay has been used, due in part to the nature of the auction site. 'With eBay it's all time-relevant, because the stuff that's for sale, either outright or by auction, only appears for sale for a limited period of time,' Constantine said.

u Visits to local and regional news sites, such as Oregonlive-.com, ldn.com (Longview Daily News) and the Daily Astorian.

Much of the information provided is in code, wrapped in data files that would require a trained - and expensive - professional to unravel.

Perhaps the most revealing information exists within the hardcopy printouts.

One e-mail, dated Feb. 26, that was sent from the county's IT director, Jean Ripa, to Corsiglia implies that Corsiglia was asking Ripa to keep quiet the fact that his computer had been confiscated by the Sheriff's Office.

Ripa's e-mail states: 'I find myself in a very difficult situation. At this time, I have knowledge that your computer has been taken by the SO for, potentially, an investigation. I do not feel comfortable in keeping that information from your two colleagues. It is the type of thing, I am sure, you would want to be aware of if it were happening elsewhere in the county organization.'

An earlier e-mail acquired by the Spotlight through a public records request showed Corsiglia had never informed Ripa that the computer had been confiscated, something she later deduced on her own.

Ripa continues by writing to Corsiglia that 'I hope you understand why I feel an obligation to communicate this type of issue with all three of you. Were this happening to either Rita [Bernhard] or Tony [Hyde], I would feel the same obligation to inform you.'

An e-mail from Corsiglia dated Jan. 29 to Port of St. Helens Commission President Robert Keyser shows Corsiglia's angst at being cut out of the loop on Port Westward development communication, including his concern with Fuller's work relationship with Port Executive Director Gerald Meyer.

Most of the hard copy files, as with the electronic information, is more mundane in nature, and there are few exchanges that reflect day-to-day discourse with county staff and his constituency.

'It doesn't seem to me that it would reflect normal business,' Sheehan said.

Sheehan said he is suspicious about whether or not files had been deleted prior to having the record's request processed.

'I thought it was kind of suspicious, his business going to the sheriff and all that,' he said.