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US Senate candidate Joe Miller to abandon appeal of legal judgment

Jill Burke

U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller, a tea party-backed Republican, has notified the Alaska Court of Appeals that he intends to drop his challenge of a lower court ruling awarding more than $85,000 to Alaska Dispatch.

"We're pleased this is finally over. Mr. Miller's appeal was totally frivolous. It never should have been filed, and he should have (withdrawn) it long ago without wasting the time of the parties, the courts and the Federal Election Commission,” said John McKay, Alaska Dispatch's attorney.

Miller's decision comes just as the politician is ramping up his second run for one of Alaska's two U.S. Senate seats. He had a bittersweet election cycle in 2010. That year he beat Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski during the primary but later lost in the general election when she mounted a fierce write-in campaign to save her job.

Alaska Dispatch and other media went to court to gain access to employment records Miller wanted kept secret. The media won, and the records showed that Miller had been disciplined while working as a part-time attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough after sneaking into his coworkers' computers to rig a political poll. When the coworkers noticed something amiss, Miller lied about what he had done.

Miller kept the lawsuit alive after the election, pursuing judgments against his former employer and the mayor who served during Miller’s tenure with the borough. Media entities that were a party to the case were released from the litigation if they agreed to not seek damages from Miller, which as the prevailing parties they were entitled to do. Alaska Dispatch did not acquiesce to the request, and as a result was kept active in the litigation.

Last year, Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides ordered Miller to pay 75 percent of Alaska Dispatch's $112,000 in legal fees stemming from the case. The judgment amounted to about $94,000 for Miller, a higher-than-usual percentage of legal fees because Joannides found Miller's behavior in dragging out the lawsuit to be vexatious and in bad faith.

Miller received permission from the Federal Election Commission to use campaign funds to make the payment and deposited the money with the court while he appealed.

Miller's campaign did not respond to inquiries Thursday seeking comment about why he's chosen to abandon the appeal.

And McKay said Miller still owes Alaskans some information.

"Miller still has not been forthcoming about who took care of his legal bills relating to the case, or how,” the lawyer said. “He's told different stories at different times and places. At least so long as he is considering running for public office, he owes Alaskans a truthful and clear explanation of how his legal work has been paid for.”

As the 2014 election season heats up, Miller, a self-branded reform candidate, has again put himself into the fray, going after the junior member of Alaska's congressional delegation, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat. But before Miller has a chance to face off with Begich, he must first defeat at least two Republican challengers, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and former Natural Resources commissioner as well as former Attorney General Dan Sullivan.

Miller is knocking Begich as a politician who will fall into step with the will of Senate majority leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama, both fellow Democrats. And Miller's knocking his Republican brethren as being too establishment-minded.

“We must replace (Begich) with a fighter, not someone who likes to play the Washington game,” Miller wrote in an editorial on JoeMiller.us on Dec. 31. “My opponents can count on big outside interests to come to their aid; I’m depending on you to have my back.”

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com.