ANCHORAGE — A California appeals court panel has ruled that developers of the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska do not deserve special protections for buying insider documents about project opponents and using those records to pursue a case with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
The decision on Tuesday allows a 2011 lawsuit filed in California to proceed against the Pebble Limited Partnership and others by the Renewable Resources Coalition, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
The case is tied to work done by Los Angeles-based Robert Kaplan, who worked as a fundraiser for an anti-Pebble ballot initiative in 2008. The initiative failed, Kaplan was fired, and he sold internal emails, donor lists, bank records and other information to Pebble for $50,000, according to the ruling and decisions in related cases.
An arbitrator in 2012 found Kaplan had “unclean hands,” was untruthful and must pay more than $3 million to the coalition and more than $5 million to political consultant Art Hackney.
Kaplan, who is a defendant in the lawsuit but wasn’t part of the issue under appeal, has filed for bankruptcy.
Pebble has acknowledged using information its lawyer bought from Kaplan for an appeal with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. The complaint alleged that mine opponent Bob Gillam had secretly funneled nearly $2 million into the initiative aimed at stopping the project.
The complaint was ultimately settled for $100,000 by the Renewable Resources Coalition, Gillam and the Alaskans for Clean Water ballot group.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge had thrown out the coalition’s claims, finding Pebble pursued the case with the Alaska Public Offices Commission as a public interest issue and was justified in bringing it with information from the purchased documents.
But a three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeal disagreed, finding the central element of the lawsuit was the coalition’s claim that Pebble wrongly bought confidential documents.
The case now goes back to the Superior Court judge. Pebble is considering an appeal to the California Supreme Court.
The coalition’s executive director, Anders Gustafson, said the group lost donors as a result of the APOC investigation and the appeals’ court ruling should breathe life back into the coalition and make it stronger.
Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole said the company maintains the APOC case needed to be brought.