Judge with 'negative opinion' of Miller bows out of write-in case

Richard Mauer

The federal judge originally assigned to hear Joe Miller's lawsuit to challenge how write-in ballots are counted took himself off the case Wednesday because of the "negative opinion" he held of Miller.

U.S. District Judge John Sedwick said Miller left the court system in a lurch in 2004 when he called Sedwick at 4:20 p.m. to tell him he was quitting that day as a part-time federal magistrate judge in Fairbanks.

"The process for filling a part-time magistrate judge position is lengthy, a fact well known to Mr. Miller because he had gone through that process," Sedwick wrote in an order from his chambers. "Mr. Miller's failure to give reasonable notice of his resignation left the court with no judicial officer resident in Fairbanks, and no ability to fill the vacancy for many months. This incident caused me to form a negative opinion of Mr. Miller."

At the time, Sedwick was the chief federal judge in Alaska and Miller's supervisor.

Sedwick cited an additional reason for leaving the case: His wife contributed to Lisa Murkowski's write-in campaign.

Miller's lawsuit, filed Tuesday, has been taken over by the current chief U.S. District Court judge, Ralph Beistline. Beistline is also familiar with Miller. As the administrative state Superior Court judge in Fairbanks in 1998, he hired Miller as the state magistrate in Tok, a position Miller kept till he moved to Fairbanks in 2002.

Sedwick likely played a crucial role in Miller being directed to fire his wife as his part-time federal court clerk in December 2002.

Miller became the part-time federal magistrate judge in Fairbanks on June 21, 2002. He immediately hired his wife, Kathleen, as his clerk.

A judiciary handbook that would have been provided to Miller referenced the federal anti-nepotism statute that had been part of the United States Code since 1967, according to a court spokesman. Judges are covered by that statute and are forbidden from hiring their spouses, among other relatives.

During his campaign, Miller said in response to questions that someone in the court authorized him to hire his wife, but he wouldn't say who. In a rare press statement in October, Marvel Hansbraugh, clerk of court for the U.S. District Court, confirmed Miller's account, but likewise didn't say who authorized the hire.

At the time Miller was hired, the chief judge in the district was James Singleton. Singleton, now a senior judge, has not responded to a request for clarification.

Sedwick assumed the chief judge post Sept. 2, 2002. Without providing a date but suggesting it was sometime later, Hansbraugh said, "Mr. Miller was subsequently advised by the Chief Judge of this District that (the nepotism statute) might prohibit a part-time Magistrate Judge from hiring his wife as an assistant." As a result of that advice, she said Miller ended his wife's employment in December, and she received unemployment benefits.

The nepotism statute also says that anyone appointed in violation of the law is not entitled to any payment from the federal treasury. Neither the District Court in Alaska nor Miller responded to a question about whether the money paid to Kathleen Miller was returned. Miller has said the question was "misguided."

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