Claiming that their colleagues have violated the law in turning the so-called Troopergate probe into a political witch hunt, five members of the Alaskan legislature will file a lawsuit demaning a permanent injunction against the investigation. They make several claims, most of which involve the partisan nature of the leaders of the probe (emphases mine):
Five Alaska Legislators, Rep. Wes Keller, Rep. Mike Kelly, Rep. Bob Lynn, Sen. Fred Dyson, and Sen. Tom Wagoner, will file suit in state superior court in Anchorage tomorrow morning (9/16/08) at 9:00 am (Superior courthouse 4th Avenue) against Sen. French, Sen. Kim Elton, Stephen Branchflower and the Alaska Legislative Council in order to halt the investigation of Governor Sarah Palin and others because the investigators have lost the appearance of impartiality required under the Alaska Constitution. The Legislators will ask for declaratory and injunctive relief in the investigation, stating that it is an attempt to use the Alaska Legislative Council to further partisan politics.
The Legislators cite in their lawsuit that the investigation into the firing of former Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public safety Walt Monegan, led by Sens. Hollis French and Kim Elton, with Stephen Branchflower and the Alaska Legislative Council, is being driven by partisan politics in an attempt to unlawfully smear Gov. Palin and others.
“The Partisan actions of Sen. French, Sen. Elton and the Legislative Council have tainted the investigation beyond the appearance of impartiality required under the Alaska Constitution,” said Kevin Clarkson, Esq., of the firm Brena, Bell & Clarkson, P.C., and counsel in the suit.
The investigation, which began after Monegan’s dismissal in July 2008, is being led by outspoken supporters of Barack Obama and members of the Democratic Party. Sen. Elton, the Chair of the Legislative Council donated $2,000 to the Obama campaign but has failed to disclose this to the Legislative Council and he continues to preside over the Council with respect to the investigation, refusing to convene meetings of the Council at the request of a majority of the Council’s membership. Sen. French the investigation “project manager” failed to disclose to the Legislative Council the comments he made on a radio program criticizing the Governor’s conduct regarding the termination of Monegan as “criminal” prior to being appointed as the investigation “project manager” and even prior to a vote to investigate at all. Sen. French also failed to disclose to the Legislative Council that he had a personal bone to pick with the Governor over the Monegan firing because Monegan was a friend and because he had worked closely with Monegan during the 2008 legislative session regarding attempts to include in the state budget items that Governor Palin had vetoed.
Politically, that’s a substantial bill of particulars. Legally, though, I’m not certain whether this will fly. The Alaska state constitution does not mention “impartiality” in any context other than jury trials and in connection to a summary of issues surrounding statehood. The most relevant part, Section 2.20, details impeachment proceedings but does not call for “impartiality” in any explicit or implied sense:
Section 2.20 – Impeachment.
All civil officers of the State are subject to impeachment by the legislature. Impeachment shall originate in the senate and must be approved by a two-thirds vote of its members. The motion for impeachment shall list fully the basis for the proceeding. Trial on impeachment shall be conducted by the house of representatives. A supreme court justice designated by the court shall preside at the trial. Concurrence of two-thirds of the members of the house is required for a judgment of impeachment. The judgment may not extend beyond removal from office, but shall not prevent proceedings in the courts on the same or related charges.
There could be legal precedent for this request, but it doesn’t appear to come from the state constitution itself. When the lawsuit gets filed, perhaps a better explanation will emerge.
Politically, of course, this ran off the rails after French promised an “October surprise” and the support for Barack Obama became public, even before the investigation had been completed. French also interfered with investigator subpoenas, which casts this in an even more political light. The tenor and direction of this probe has become so blatant that Palin announced that she would no longer cooperate with it, and given these developments, it’s not hard to understand why.
More developments continue today. A group of citizens have now also filed suit to block the probe. The Speaker of the Alaskan House has demanded that Elton convene the Legislative Council to review the status of the probe in light of ” public comments from individuals at boths ends of the political spectrum.”
However, it would probably still be better politically to allow the probe to run its course. Palin’s attorney wants the probe moved to the State Personnel Board rather than legislature, where they believe partisan politics will not interfere with the investigation. That’s hardly a stonewall, and sounds like a reasonable compromise. If French and Elton really want a fact-finding mission, they’ll agree to let go of the probe. If they want a political witch hunt, they can keep acting in the manner they have for the past three weeks.