Fed judge dismisses Juneteenth lawsuit against Palin

Posted: Friday, January 08, 2010

ANCHORAGE - A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin that alleged she violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights by failing to issue a proclamation in 2007 for a celebration commemorating the freeing of U.S. slaves.

Plaintiffs say they just learned the Juneteenth proclamation was issued - as required by state law - retroactively just before Palin's July resignation.

For that reason, they're asking the federal court, in a motion expected to be filed Monday, to vacate the Dec. 28 decision, which dismissed the case without prejudice to any state remedies available.

Plaintiffs also want U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess to impose $1,000 sanctions against Palin and grant their request for a voluntary dismissal.

In his order, Burgess noted that an amended complaint filed in November failed to show that any federal rights were violated. He also shot down a claim that Palin tried to bribe Juneteenth organizers if the lawsuit was dismissed.

"First, the allegation that the defendant told someone that she would appropriate money to a 'to-be-formed Juneteenth Commission in Alaska' if this lawsuit would be dismissed rings more of settlement negotiations than an attempt at bribery," Burgess wrote. "Further, attempted bribery is a criminal offense, rather than a federal civil rights claim."

Plaintiff Gregory Charles Royal of Washington, D.C., said he wants to set the legal record straight that the case has been resolved after all. He said it was needlessly dragged through the court system for months.

"I liken it to saying someone took 10 bucks from you wrongly, and you say we'll take you to court to get the $10 back, then months later you find out they put the money in your pocket back without telling you," Royal said Thursday. "We're glad the proclamation is issued. But why not just tell us this months ago?"

Margaret Paton-Walsh, an assistant attorney general, said it appeared the case was about more than the proclamation after the plaintiffs filed additional claims "without merit" in August accusing Palin of the attempted bribery.

"It doesn't seem to me the Juneteenth proclamation was going to satisfy them," she said.

Paton-Walsh also said the proclamation was not issued in 2007 because of a clerical error.

"It was a completely inadvertent occurrence, she said. "There was nobody that made a decision that it was not going to be issued."

The proclamation document is signed by Palin and dated July 17. That's the same day Paton-Walsh filed a motion to dismiss and nine days before Palin stepped down as governor. Paton-Walsh said she was aware at the time that a proclamation was in the works, but did not know the timing of it then.

The document was originally listed on the state's Web site without a date it was signed. But the June 17 date was added Thursday.

The case originally was filed in Washington in March and was later transferred to the U.S. District Court of Alaska after adding Eagle River resident Kim Chatman as a plaintiff.

Chatman withdrew from the case through the amended complaint after the federal court said plaintiffs did not meet its diversity jurisdiction. She is listed as a plaintiff pending motion.

Chatman filed an ethics complaint when Palin was governor last year. The complaint, which has not been publicly resolved, alleged Palin was misusing the governor's office for personal gain by securing unwarranted benefits and receiving improper gifts through a legal defense fund.

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