Palin administration fights subpoenas in court

Suit questions whether the correct legislative committee issued orders

Posted: Friday, September 26, 2008

Attorney General Talis Colberg is going to court to challenge subpoenas issued by the Alaska Legislature as part of its investigation into abuse of power allegations against Gov. Sarah Palin.

The move on Colberg's part, which was announced Thursday in a letter to Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, acknowledges that the subpoenaed state employees can't simply ignore subpoenas from the Legislature, as Colberg had earlier said.

That's a victory for the Legislature, but it may come at the cost of further delaying a complete accounting of what led to the firing of former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. The inquiry is to determine whether it was retribution for his failure to fire Mike Wooten, a state trooper who had a bitter divorce from Palin's sister.

Palin had earlier pledged cooperation with the Legislature's investigation, but reversed course after she was selected to be the Republican candidate for vice president by Sen. John McCain.

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee met to hear from subpoenaed witnesses, but none showed. Colberg said each one of the state employees chose on their own not to testify. He had earlier said that Palin did not want them to testify.

"The Department of Law represents seven individual state employees, each of whom decided not to testify voluntarily under the threat of subpoena. Given the circumstances their choice is understandable," Colberg said.

The lawsuit says that it is the State Affairs Committee, not the Judiciary Committee, which should have issued any subpoenas.

Colberg denied in the letter to Elton that he considered compliance with subpoenas voluntary.

"I do not, of course, believe that responding to properly issued subpoenas is voluntary. But I do believe that subpoenaed persons have the right to challenge the validity of the subpoenas when the validity is suspect," Colberg wrote.

Elton said he was happy to see Colberg acknowledge the responsibility to respond to the subpoenas.

"I'm comfortable the courts are going to find on the side of the Legislature," he said.

Elton said the response of the Palin administration to the investigation, including breaking the pledge to cooperate and then failing to comply with the subpoenas, may have delayed the investigation.

"If this is what (Colberg) believes, I wish he had done it much earlier," Elton said.

A report prepared by the Legislature's investigator, former prosecutor Stephen Branchflower, is expected to be provided to the Legislative Council, chaired by Elton, in time for an Oct. 10 meeting. The council conducts the daily business of the Legislature and acts on its behalf when it is not in session.

Elton said Branchflower has already begun writing the report and had time to do it because he had not been taking depositions.

"Because of the stonewalling on the part of the attorney general, I anticipate he has more time to write," Elton said.

House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, said he was concerned about the politicization of the investigation and had urged the Legislative Council to meet before that to provide direction to the investigation.

Harris said he was unable to convince other members of the need for an earlier meeting.

"I didn't have the support to do what I wanted to do, so I just bagged it," he said.

The remaining person who also has not complied with a subpoena is Todd Palin, the governor's husband. Colberg's lawsuit does not cover Todd Palin, who is not a state employee.

It is not clear whether Todd Palin will file his own lawsuit attempting to quash his subpoena. Colberg said earlier that the governor's husband was too busy campaigning to comply with the subpoena.

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



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