Legislators decry Troopergate suit

Sen. Elton's attorney responds to challenge against investigation

Posted: Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Alaska Legislature is responding to a challenge to its authority to investigate Gov. Sarah Palin's administration, calling the effort "bizarre."

The challenge from five of its own members, all Republican backers of Palin, says the legislative branch doesn't have the authority to investigate the executive branch.

"This is surely one of the most bizarre challenges to Alaska's separation-of-powers doctrine in the history of the state," wrote Peter Maassen, attorney for Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, the Legislative Council, which Elton chairs, and other defendants.

The suit was brought by several Republican legislators arguing that their own branch of government does not have the authority to investigate.

The plaintiffs are Reps. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla; Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage; Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks; and Sens. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, and Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River.

Maassen called the request by the plaintiffs "extraordinary."

"They are asking the court to shut down a duly authorized legislative investigation in the final weeks of its life, solely to forestall a negative impact on the fortunes of one political party," Maassen said.

The investigation into Palin's firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan was authorized by the Legislative Council, which put Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Hollis French, D-Anchorage, in charge of the investigation.

Republican allies of Palin are concerned Elton, French and the investigation have become a partisan attack on Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president.

"My goal here is to make sure this investigation is fair and nonpartisan or doesn't have the appearance of being partisan," said Dyson, one of those bringing the suit.

Dyson and the plaintiffs argued that the investigation that's become known as "Troopergate" is making Alaska a "laughingstock" nationally.

Maassen said that actions such as Palin filing an ethics complaint against herself, the McCain campaign announcing subpoenas would be disobeyed, legislators filing suit against their own Legislature, and Palin's attorney general saying that complying with subpoenas was a matter of personal choice might have created that image.

"Plaintiffs may truly believe that Alaska has become a 'laughingstock' but they should look to someone other than defendants here for the source of the humor," Maassen responded.

The legislative attorney said the plaintiffs provided little legal basis for their attempt to stop the investigation and called the lawsuit "flimsy."

At one point, Maassen said one of the arguments by the legislators' attorney was "an obviously half-hearted argument that cites no cases and relies on no recognizable legal principles." Another argument Maassen simply called "absurd."

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said she was dismayed a lawsuit that could weaken the Legislature was filed by members of the Legislature itself.

"It's dismaying to see Republican legislators going to court and trying to undercut the separation of powers," she said.

Senate Judiciary Committee member Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, voted against issuing subpoenas to members of Palin's staff, but said that he wasn't worried about weakening the power of the Legislature.

"I'm always protective of our legislative powers," he said, but he accused the other members of action that "pits one branch of government against each other" and "going the thermonuclear route" by enforcing the subpoenas.

The case is scheduled to be heard in Superior Court in Anchorage today.

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