Proposal for defense of ethics complaints gets pushback
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Proposed regulations would allow the state Department of Law to represent Alaska’s governor or lieutenant governor against ethics complaints, something a former attorney general says would be an inappropriate use of state resources.
The department has proposed rules that would allow it to defend the governor or lieutenant governor against ethics complaints if the attorney general determines the representation is in the public interest. The department could defend the attorney general against an ethics complaint if the governor determines doing so is in the public interest, under the proposal. Information received by the department in defense of such complaints would be considered confidential.
Attorneys general in Alaska are appointed by the governor and subject to legislative confirmation. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s attorney general is Kevin Clarkson.
The department is taking comments on the proposed rules through Nov. 4, after which it will decide how or whether to move forward.
Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills said she did not know of a specific impetus for the proposed changes but said the issue came up through a review process. She said by email that the proposal would “enable the department to carry on one of its primary functions _ that of acting as legal counsel for the Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General in their official capacities.”
It’s not clear if any ethics complaints have been filed. Such information would be considered confidential, she said.
Jahna Lindemuth, an attorney general under Dunleavy’s predecessor, Gov. Bill Walker, said the proposal is inappropriate and should not be adopted.
“The role of the attorney general is to represent the state of Alaska, and the governor is not the client except to the extent he is the representative of the state,” she said. “So, when the attorney general, in his sole discretion, is defending ethics complaints against the governor or the lieutenant governor, they are his client directly and it’s not the state of Alaska who is the client at that point. And so, it confuses the basic role of the attorney general.”
Lindemuth is one of the legal advisers for a campaign aimed at recalling Dunleavy.
State Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, questioned the need for new rules.
“I think it’s sort of common sense, if you’re a governor and you’re acting in your state capacity, then you should be entitled to be represented by the attorney general,” he said. But getting into personal, political or ethics issues, “I think there’s a pretty clear line that you shouldn’t be using state resources to defend yourself.”
Mills said the governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general currently have to personally pay for any legal counsel to represent them before the state personnel board, which handles complaints against those offices. Mills said the state official can get reimbursed by the state if exonerated.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, in emails during her final months in office, expressed outrage over ethics complaints she felt frivolously targeted her. Palin unsuccessfully ran as the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee and later, in July 2009, stepped down as governor in the midst of her term.