The Alaska Supreme Court has agreed to hear an emergency appeal from lawyers seeking to shut down the Legislature's investigation of Gov. Sarah Palin.
Friday's action came the day after Anchorage Superior Court Judge Peter Michalski threw out their lawsuit attempting to halt the Legislature's investigation of Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president. Texas-based Liberty Legal Institute and Anchorage attorney Kevin Clarkson filed the suit on behalf of a group of Alaska Republican state legislators opposed to their colleagues' investigation, which has come to be called Troopergate.
The state Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments on their appeal for 3 p.m. Wednesday and agreed to rule no later than the close of business Thursday.
The appeal is a last-minute attempt to stop Steve Branchflower, the investigator hired by the Legislative Council, from releasing his report as scheduled on Friday. Branchflower is looking into Palin's dismissal of her public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, and whether she improperly pressured him to fire a state trooper divorced from her sister.
The state legislators whose names appear on the suit attempting to stop the investigation are Wes Keller, Mike Kelly, Fred Dyson, Tom Wagoner, Carl Gatto and Bob Lynn.
"The plaintiffs and Alaskans will suffer irreparable harm if the investigation at issue continues and if the resulting investigative report issues as planned on Oct. 10, 2008," their lawyers wrote in the request for the state Supreme Court to hear the appeal.
The lawyers argued that allowing the investigation to proceed would threaten the right under the Alaska Constitution to a "fair and just" investigation by the Legislature. They allege bias among the legislators who are leading the investigation and argue the Legislative Council lacks the authority to order the probe.
Michalski, in dismissing their lawsuit Thursday, ruled the conduct of the investigation did not violate the right to fairness. He found the Legislature has the right to investigate, and issues such as whether that happens through a council or committee are not for the courts to decide and is "business to be left to the legislative branch."
The judge Thursday also threw out a lawsuit filed by Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg. Colberg, a Palin appointee, was attempting to persuade the court to quash the Legislature's subpoenas ordering state officials to testify in the investigation.
The attorney general's office has not joined the appeal to the state Supreme Court. Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said Colberg would not say what his next move would be until he has a chance to discuss it with the subpoenaed state officials.
Nine state officials, including Palin chief of staff Mike Nizich, defied the Legislature's subpoenas and refused to show up for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. So did the governor's husband, Todd. Legislators said they could be found in contempt when the full Legislature convenes in January, a finding that carries potential jail time.
Anchorage attorney Thomas Van Flein, who is representing Todd and Sarah Palin in the Troopergate investigation, said Friday he was working on whether Todd Palin would testify now that the Superior Court determined the subpoenas are valid.
He said he was preparing to discuss the matter with Branchflower and Anchorage Democratic Sen. Hollis French, who is overseeing the investigation. Van Flein said he first needed to talk to Todd, who is on the campaign trail with his wife in the Lower 48.
The governor initially said she'd cooperate with the Legislature's investigation but changed course after her nomination as vice president, saying it's politicized and that the state personnel board has jurisdiction over whether she did anything wrong. The McCain-Palin campaign said the Palins are cooperating in the personnel board investigation. That one is out of public view and might not be done before the Nov. 4 election.
The Legislature's investigation is nearly done -- unless the Palins or the subpoenaed state officals decide to cooperate after all. The attorney for the Legislative Council argued to the Alaska Supreme Court on Friday that the only thing the last-minute appeal could accomplish is to suppress release of the investigator's completed report on the night before it is to come out.
The Legislative Council's attorney, Peter Maassen, said in an interview he doesn't think there's a chance that the state Supreme Court would rule in favor of the appeal. Maassen said he believes the high court agreed to hear the appeal because "the court thinks it's an important enough, high profile enough lawsuit that the public will be interested in hearing what the court has to say on it, quickly."
Clarkson, representing the legislators who sued to stop the investigation, said he thinks they have a good shot at winning the appeal.
"I certainly think we're right on the law," he said. "But the unpredictable part is what judges do."
Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call him at 257-4344.