Judge may rule today on Troopergate

WARRING FACTIONS: AG dislikes subpoenas, and it's lawmakers vs. lawmakers.

October 2, 2008 

As Gov. Sarah Palin works on last-minute preparation for tonight's vice presidential debate, an Anchorage judge today is expected to decide the fate of the Legislature's investigation into whether she abused her power.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Peter Michalski will hear arguments this morning and likely rule on the request by five Republican state legislators to halt the Legislature's investigation into what's known as Troopergate. The legislators' lawyers plan to call to the witness stand the state senators overseeing the investigation, as well as the investigator they hired, saying in a press release "it's about time some of these rogue 'investigators' have to face the law.' "

Peter Maassen, the lawyer representing the Legislative Council, which ordered the investigation, said he doubts the judge will allow such testimony. He said the facts aren't really in dispute and the argument is over the law.

"I think the plaintiffs would like to have some political theater instead of the law, since the law isn't very good for them," Maassen said.

The lawmakers suing to stop the investigation argue it's been tainted with politics and the Legislature overstepped its authority in going after Palin, whose selection as Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain's running mate vastly increased the visibility of the case.

The judge this morning will also hear the arguments of Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg, a Palin appointee who is pushing for Michalski to throw out the Legislature's subpoenas ordering potential witnesses to testify in the investigation. Nearly a dozen people, including the governor's husband and her chief of staff, have refused to honor the subpoenas and face a threat of possible jail time.

Maassen said the judge might make a ruling on the subpoena dispute today.

Colberg has advised state officials that he thinks the legislative subpoenas are flawed and that honoring them is optional. His handling of the investigation is controversial. A group calling itself Alaskans for Truth on Wednesday delivered a petition to the governor's office calling for Colberg to lose his job.

Blogger Linda Kellen Biegel, one of the organizers, said roughly 1,200 people signed the petition at an anti-Palin rally Saturday. She charged Colberg now represents the interests of the McCain campaign -- not the state.

Colberg wouldn't say this week if he'd now advise state officials to start cooperating with the investigation if the judge refuses to quash the subpoenas.

Steve Branchflower, the investigator hired by the Legislative Council, is supposed to give his report on the investigation on Oct. 10. At issue is whether Palin dismissed public safety commissioner Walt Monegan because he wouldn't fire a state trooper who went through an ugly divorce with her sister.

Palin initially said she'd cooperate with the bipartisan investigation -- then changed course after her nomination as vice president, saying the Legislature's investigation was politicized. Palin said the state personnel board, not the Legislature, has jurisdiction and she'd cooperate with its investigation. That one is out of public view and may not be done before the Nov. 4 presidential election.

Maassen, lawyer for the Legislative Council, said in a court filing that the five legislators suing to stop the Legislature's investigation are "engaged in one of the most bizarre challenges to Alaska's separation of powers doctrine in the history of the state." He wrote it is "sadly ironic" that legislators are challenging the right of their own branch of government to investigate abuses of power by the executive branch.

"The plaintiff legislators are obviously in a state of high anxiety about what Mr. Branchflower's report will show. Yet they may like the report's conclusions and rush to embrace them. They may hate the report's conclusions and spend the weeks between Oct. 10 and election day rebutting them. It may be a mixed bag," Maassen argued in his court filing.

The five legislators suing to stop the Legislature's investigation of Palin -- Bob Lynn, Wes Keller, Mike Kelly, Fred Dyson and Tom Wagoner -- say that the Alaska Constitution entitles people under legislative investigation to receive "fair and just treatment." The investigation is led by Democratic supporters of Monegan and Barack Obama and tainted by biased comments to the press, Kevin Clarkson, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said in a court filing.

"Substantial media and public attention is focused on the investigation in light of governor Palin's nomination as vice president. To have a purportedly unbiased investigation conducted in such a blatantly partisan and unconstitutional manner damages the reputations of Alaska and of its legislators ..." Clarkson wrote in the court filing.

The legislators suing to stop the investigation are also being represented by the Liberty Legal Institute, the Texas-based legal arm of the Free Market Foundation, which is associated with evangelical leader James Dobson's Focus on the Family and lists its guiding principles as limited government and promotion of Judeo-Christian values.

Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins contributed to this story. Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call him at 257-4344.

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