Lawmakers predict confirmation for new attorney general

Fjelstad: 'He was super as an attorney, really great judgments'

Posted: Thursday, June 18, 2009

Key state legislators say new Attorney General Dan Sullivan is unlikely to meet the same fate as Gov. Sarah Palin's last attorney general, the controversial Wayne Anthony Ross, whom legislators rejected.

Legislators on both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees will review Sullivan, and said he appears to be a sound choice.

"My sense is that he will be confirmed," said Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sullivan will be confirmed "with accolades," said House Judiciary Committee Chair Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, to the Anchorage Daily News.

Both French and Ramras have been at odds with Palin on numerous issues, and sometimes with each other. Both were highly critical of former Attorney General Talis Colberg, who advised Palin's staff members they could ignore subpoenas from a legislative committee investigating abuse-of-power allegations against Palin.

It was French's Judiciary Committee that issued those subpoenas, and Colberg resigned a few days after the Senate found the staff members in contempt for ignoring the subpoenas.

Sullivan arrives with a stellar resume, including high level positions in the former President George W. Bush's administration and service as a military officer, French said, though he still needs to explain his views on issues such as oil tariffs and subsistence.

A key issue also will be how he handles the tricky issue of whether the attorney general should represent the governor personally or the state of Alaska generally.

"We want to hear him articulate the boundaries of hisrepresentation of the governor as governor, and balance that with his obligation to the Department of Law and the people of the state," French said.

Ross was rejected by the Legislature, the first time in the state's history a cabinet appointment had ever been blocked, after he told legislators they should ignore the law and let Palin appoint whoever she wanted to an open Juneau Senate seat.

While Sullivan has little experience practicing law, about two years, the Attorney General position is more of a management position, French said. His experience managing a bureau within the State Department will likely be relevant, he said.

Republicans on the committee praised Sullivan as well.

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, vice chair of Judiciary, called Sullivan "incredibly accomplished and professional."

Senate Minority Leader Gene Therriault, R-Anchorage, also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Sullivan's pre-Alaska bar experience shouldn't be discounted.

Sullivan did prestigious clerkships with Judge Andrew Kleinfeld of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Fairbanks, and Chief Justice Warren Matthews of the Alaska Supreme Court before passing the Alaska bar in 2000.

Therriault said that and his extensive experience in Washington, D.C., make Sullivan likely to be confirmed.

"Although he may not have stood up before a podium and argued that many cases, (the clerkships) give him insight into how a judge is going to process a case," Therriault said.

Before leaving Alaska to take a prestigious White House Fellowship in 2002, Sullivan worked at the Anchorage office of the Perkins Coie law firm.

Eric Fjelstad, the firm's managing partner in Alaska, said the state has a winner in its new attorney general.

"He was super as an attorney, really great judgments - you don't come across many Dan Sullivans in your career," he said.

Rep. Lindsey Holmes, a House Judiciary Committee member, said she first met Sullivan when he was a member of Perkins Coie, and has many mutual friends who praise him, but has also heard concerns.

"I have heard some questions from (members of) the bar about the fact that he hasn't been here since 2002," she said.

"I don't doubt his commitment to the state," she said, noting that he has continued to vote here, own a house here, and married into a longtime Alaskan family.

Therriault said that while the Legislature will definitely look at Sullivan's qualifications, he'll have been in the job for 6 to 8 months before his confirmation vote.

"He'll have the luxury of being in the job, performing the duties and developing a track record we'll be able to evaluate," he said.

"Let's be honest," Holmes said. "In 50 years the Legislature has only rejected one cabinet appointment."

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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