The wife of Joe Miller, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, drew unemployment after working as his clerk in 2002 when he was a federal magistrate, a fact Sen. Lisa Murkowski argued is inconsistent with Miller's position on the constitutionality of such benefits.
Miller has called unemployment benefits unconstitutional, although he's expanded on that to say he does not want the program gutted but rather for it to be entirely under the control of the states.
Miller said in an e-mail, in response to questions, that his wife, Kathleen, worked for him as a clerk/secretary when he became a part-time magistrate judge in 2002. Miller held the post until 2004.
"Before 2004 there was a long-standing practice, both in Fairbanks as well as other areas in the United States, that due to the time commitments of being a lawyer and a part-time Federal Magistrate judge the same individuals that worked in your private law offices also worked in your federal magistrate office -- many of those being family members. Before even applying for the Fairbanks Magistrate judgeship I spoke with members of the federal court concerning the employment of Kathleen. It was confirmed that she could work for me in my office. After leaving my office Kathleen did receive unemployment benefits for a short period of time," Miller said in the e-mail sent to the Daily News and others Monday night.
Blogger and Murkowski supporter Andrew Halcro has claimed, based on anonymous sources, that the hiring violated nepotism rules and Miller was forced to fire his wife from the position.
The Miller campaign did not respond to questions posed by the Daily News Monday night and Tuesday about why Kathleen Miller left the magistrate clerk job after just seven months. The campaign also did not respond when asked which members of the federal court gave Miller permission to hire his wife in the magistrate's office.
Federal court spokesman Dick Carelli said current rules would not have allowed Miller to hire his wife.
"I know there are judicial policies in place that would prevent a spouse from being hired by any judge today," he said.
But Carelli said he could not say if that was the rule in 2002.
Judges and clerks in the Alaska District Court did not return phone messages seeking an answer.
Rules for federal judges are set by the Judicial Conference of the United States. Rules can be made in response to individual questions from judges about an issue. But the date of when that happens is kept confidential. So is the identity of the judge. They can also be changed by public advisory opinions, but there is none on this issue.
A resume Kathleen Miller submitted when then-Gov. Sarah Palin appointed her to the Alaska Judicial Council last year said she was a U.S. magistrate part-time judge clerk from June 2002 to December 2002. The resume said she'd started working in Miller's private Fairbanks law office in October 2002 (months after she'd begun working in the magistrate's office). The Miller campaign did not respond to questions about how that fits with his explanation of the hiring that it was the long-standing practice of part-time magistrates to bring their private law staff for work.
Miller did say in his Monday e-mail that "I welcome any and all discussion on nepotism when it pertains to all of the candidates of the U.S. Senate race," a clear reference to Murkowski. She first obtained the Senate seat when she was appointed to it by her father, Frank Murkowski, who gave up the seat when he was elected governor.
The Murkowski campaign sent out its own statement focused on the fact that Miller's wife collected unemployment benefits. Murkowski's spokesman said that "it is odd that a candidate for the United States Senate would continue to walk around parroting the phrase 'unconstitutional, unconstitutional' when he has been a benefactor of those very programs." Miller beat Murkowski in the Republican primary and she's running as a write-in.
ABC News asked Miller in July if he favored the extension of federal unemployment benefits that was being debated in Congress for people who had been jobless for six months or more.
"First of all it's not constitutionally authorized," Miller said. "I think that's the first thing that's got to be looked at. So I do not favor their extension."
Miller was asked on Fox News on Sept. 19 about his view that unemployment benefits are unconstitutional. Miller said the nation has an "entitlement mentality." He went on to say on Fox that the Constitution has enumerated powers, and if it's not in the Constitution "it's a power that belongs to the states and the people." Miller then told the Daily News he is not proposing to gut unemployment benefits but seeks "transition to the state administration of the program."
In an interview from Washington, D.C., last week and posted Monday by ABC News, Miller was again asked about unemployment benefits being unconstitutional.
"Look, this is an issue not whether or not Joe is against unemployment compensation," he said. "I'm very much for it. But the issue is who administers that program, who should be in charge of that program. It's a question of state control or federal control. Who has the power, who has the control, who has the money?"
Alaska, like the other states, has its own unemployment insurance program and the first 26 weeks of benefits are paid from state taxes. The federal government pays the cost to administer the program. In return, the state has to follow federal employment law, such as rules on when people can get benefits after quitting a job for cause and making sure they're available for full-time work.
Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call him at 257-4344.