The trial of a 39-year old Sitka man accused of murder remains delayed, while the court attempts to screen out evidence potentially harmful to the City of Sitka.
Reuben Yerkes turned himself in to Sitka police early in the morning on May 6, after allegedly killing his girlfriend Ali Clayton. Yerkes was a paralegal in Sitka’s Legal Department at the time of his arrest. Clayton had formerly worked in the city’s Finance Department.
The City of Sitka intervened in the case, after work computers used by the defendant and the victim were seized by police as part of the criminal investigation.
The city believes that among some 1,800 emails obtained by search warrant from Yerkes’ computer are documents sensitive to other cases: in particular, a major civil lawsuit stemming from the August, 2015 landslide on Kramer Avenue.
As a result, the city has claimed privilege over the emails, and has asked the law firm representing it in the landslide suit to screen the files and prepare a so-called “privilege log.”
Yerkes’ defense is agreeable to filtering out emails that aren’t relevant to the case, but has concerns over the method.
In a hearing in Sitka Superior Court on Wednesday (11-1-17), public defender Nathan Lockwood argued that the city’s intention to release only emails containing the words “Ali” or “Clayton” did not serve the interests of his client.
Both Lockwood and Yerkes appeared in court by telephone.
“Our base position is still that we should go through everything to determine if there’s anything in there that is relevant or reasonably calculated to lead to something that could be exculpatory.”
The computer used by Clayton, on the other hand, contained only 640 emails. Legal counsel for the city, Michele Stephen, told the court that all had been screened and cleared for privilege.
Superior Court Judge David George ordered the attorneys representing all parties to reach an agreement on how best to filter Reuben Yerkes’ emails for privilege, and report back to him in a hearing at 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday, December 6.
Yerkes’ trial remains scheduled in Sitka for January, 2018. His defense has indicated that it plans to file a motion for a change of venue to move the trial to a location outside of Sitka.