Steve Branchflower, a retired prosecutor, was named Friday as special counsel to the Legislature to investigate Gov. Sarah Palin's firing of former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.
"Alaskans are calling for a complete and fair investigation into why Walt Monegan was fired and if it had anything to do with trooper Mike Wooten," Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said in a press release.
"Steve Branchflower is a highly respected prosecutor and public servant," said Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage. "If there were wrongs committed, he will find them. If there were not, he has the professional experience and good judgment to say so."
Branchflower will begin work immediately. The investigation is expected to take several months.
Palin heard about the appointment Friday and questioned whether the investigation will be fair.
"The project manager, Sen. French, already elevated this by publicly suggesting 'impeachment' before the Senate laid out any rules or an investigator was named," Palin said through spokeswoman Sharon Leighow.
"Publicly elevating this to 'impeachment' raises doubts as to how fair a process some senators may intend for this to be."
Palin abruptly fired Monegan on July 11 and later explained she wanted to take the Department of Public Safety in a different, more energetic direction. She replaced him with Chuck Kopp, then Kenai police chief. Kopp resigned a week ago over questions about a reprimand he received after a 2005 sexual harassment complaint.
On Monday, the council, a bipartisan panel of state senators and representatives, voted 12-0 to spend up to $100,000 "to investigate the circumstances and events surrounding the termination of former Public Safety Commissioner Monegan, and potential abuses of power and/or improper actions by members of the executive branch."
Questions have been raised since Monegan's firing about whether Palin, her family, or members of her administration pressured Monegan to fire Wooten, a Mat-Su-based trooper involved in a rough divorce from the governor's sister.
Palin says she didn't pressure Monegan. Monegan says he felt pressured.
French will supervise Branchflower. French, also a former prosecutor and colleague of Branchflower, has told the council that the investigator will go to work gathering evidence and could come back to lawmakers if "some people just won't talk." The House and Senate Judiciary Committees could then issue subpoenas to compel testimony.
Palin, though, says the public should insist the process is "held to the principles of fairness and due process," Leighow said.
"We want to make sure this process is fair and there's no conflict of interest."
Branchflower was an Anchorage prosecutor for 28 years and returned briefly after retirement in 2002 to run the Legislature's newly created Office of Victims' Rights. For much of his time in the Anchorage District Attorney's office, he ran the intake unit, evaluating cases submitted by police and troopers for prosecution. He also occasionally tried cases, generally high-profile murders.
Branchflower has the experience to sift through the evidence and see if there is anything there, Elton said.
Branchflower asked for the job, along with several others, Elton said.
"I think everybody wants this to be done in a timely manner, including the governor," Elton said in a phone interview Friday. "One of the reasons we are doing this isn't to point a finger, it's to blow a cloud away. And, the sooner you blow that cloud away, the better it is for the department, the governor and Alaskans."
"We are kind of in uncharted territory. This isn't something we like to do. And, it's not something that has been done often."
Find Megan Holland online at adn.com/contact/mholland or call 257-4343.