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State justices explain Troopergate decision

Lisa Demer

Nearly six months after ruling that a group of state legislators couldn't derail the Troopergate investigation, the Alaska Supreme Court has issued a 15-page opinion explaining the decision in detail.

In the opinion released Friday, the justices said the five legislators didn't have legal standing -- meaning no direct interest -- to pursue a lawsuit seeking to halt Troopergate.

The bipartisan Legislative Council unanimously approved the investigation last July. The matter became politically charged after Palin was catapulted onto the national stage Aug. 29 as John McCain's running mate. The investigation drew intense national interest.

On Sept. 16, five lawmakers, all Republicans, sued to stop the investigation. They are: state Reps. Wes Keller, Mike Kelly and Bob Lynn, and Sens. Fred Dyson and Tom Wagoner. Rep. Carl Gatto later tried to join them, but was never officially added in, according to the new opinion.

The group sued state Sens. Hollis French, legislative project director for the investigation, and Kim Elton, Legislative Council chairman, plus the council itself and the Legislature's Troopergate investigator.

After a Superior Court judge threw out the case, the five legislators, represented by the Texas-based Liberty Legal Institute and Anchorage attorney Kevin Clarkson, appealed to the Supreme Court. They argued the investigation violated the "fair and just treatment clause" of the Alaska Constitution.

In a speeded-up decision, the Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 9 to allow the investigation to move forward. The legislative report, released the next day, found Gov. Sarah Palin abused her power in failing to rein in her husband, Todd, in his efforts to get Palin's ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper, fired.

A later investigation by the state Personnel Board came to the opposite conclusion.

The four Supreme Court Justices who issued Friday's opinion -- Chief Justice Dana Fabe did not participate -- focused on one thing, whether the Republican legislators had a vested interested in the matter.

"We hold that the five legislators did not have standing to claim in this case that there was a violation of the fair and just treatment clause," Justice Robert Eastaugh wrote in the opinion.

Keller said Friday that lawmakers have moved past the issue. "Their decision now is kind of a moot point."

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Daniel Winfree wrote that the core of the case "concerns a dispute between legislators, in their official capacities, about the power and authority of the Legislative Council and how legislative investigations should be conducted. This dispute raises legitimate and important questions, but we have long made clear our aversion to court involvement in internal disputes of the legislature."

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