Alaska AG Suing to Kill Subpoenas in 'Troopergate'

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McClatchy Newspapers

Alaska AG Suing to Kill Subpoenas in 'Troopergate'

by
Sean Cockerham

Republican vice presidential candidate Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R) and her husband Todd board the campaign plane in Anchorage, Alaska on September 13, 2008. Palin's husband is refusing to comply with a subpoena issued in an abuse-of-power probe of his wife, the family's lawyer has said. (AFP/File/Robyn Beck)

Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg is suing
to kill subpoenas issued by the state Legislature in its troopergate
investigation of Gov. Sarah Palin.

Colberg filed the
complaint Thursday in Anchorage superior court, arguing the state
Senate Judiciary Committee lacked authority to issue subpoenas
demanding that potential witnesses testify in the investigation. He
wants a judge to rule them invalid.

The attorney general's
lawsuit against state lawmakers is the first time Palin's executive
branch has brought the courts into its war with the legislative branch
of government over the investigation. Now that Palin is the Republican
nominee for vice president, the stakes are huge.

Palin's
husband, Todd, and two state officials have refused to honor the
subpoenas, leaving some state legislators suggesting jail time is a
potential consequence. Colberg's suit is on behalf of seven other
subpoenaed Palin administration officials who are supposed to testify
today but won't.

"A normal subpoena wouldn't be
voluntary," Colberg, a Palin appointee, said in a Thursday interview.
"We have questions about the validity of these particular subpoenas
because of how they were done."

The lawsuit comes as
Colberg faces growing criticism from state legislators and other
critics who argue that the attorney general is treading dangerous legal
ground as state employees defy legislative subpoenas.

The
judiciary committee issued the subpoenas as part of the Legislature's
investigation of whether Palin abused her power by trying to get a
state trooper fired who was in a custody battle with her sister.
Palin's former public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, has said he
believes he lost his job because he wouldn't get rid of the trooper.

Judiciary
Committee chairman Sen. Hollis French responded, after reading the
attorney general's court filing Thursday, that the nation is built on a
system of checks and balances between the different branches of
government.

"For over 200 years, legislatures have
exercised their right to oversee the activities of the executive
branch. Denying us that authority undermines the basic democratic
process," said French, an Anchorage Democrat and former state
prosecutor.

The chairman of the Legislative Council, which
authorized the investigation, said he wished Colberg had gone to court
earlier if that was his plan.

""I'm relatively comfortable
that I know how the court is going to rule. I think that the argument
they can ignore subpoenas is specious," said the chairman, Juneau
Democratic Sen. Kim Elton. "I'm just sorry that he's waited so long to
do it because everyone knows that the clock is ticking."

The investigator hired by the Legislature, Steve Branchflower, is to present his report on Oct. 10.

Palin
initially said she'd cooperate with the Legislature's investigation.
But that changed after she became the vice presidential nominee. The
governor says she is cooperating with a separate investigation by the
state personnel board. That one is out of public view and might not be
finished before the Nov. 4 presidential election.

The
McCain-Palin campaign argues it is the personnel board, not the
Legislature, that has jurisdiction to determine whether Palin did
anything wrong. The campaign said the Legislature's investigation is a
partisan witch hunt led by Democratic supporters of Barack Obama. It
points to statements French made to the press that the report could be
a damaging "October surprise" for Palin and that she faces possible
impeachment.

The Legislature's investigation is
bipartisan. But not all lawmakers support it. Five Republican
legislators have sued to stop it. Their attorney, Kevin Clarkson, on
Thursday filed papers asking a judge for a temporary restraining order
putting a halt to the investigation, or at least removing French, Elton
and Branchflower from it.

"As the nation watches, senator
French, senator Elton and Mr. Branchflower make the Alaska Legislature
and the state of Alaska a laughingstock," Clarkson wrote in his request
to the court.
Clarkson argued the investigation is biased and that it's an
unconstitutional violation of separation of powers for the Legislature
to get involved in the executive branch hiring issues.

 

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