JUNEAU — The Alaska Department of Law is proposing rules that would allow the state to represent a governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general in complaints against them alleging ethics violations.
Under the proposal, the department could provide legal representation for a governor or lieutenant governor if the attorney general deemed representation to be in the public interest. For complaints against an attorney general, the governor “may certify” that representation by the department is in the public interest, the proposal states.
Currently, a governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general must hire outside attorneys to represent them in such matters, the department said. Under the proposed rules, those officeholders could decline representation by the department and hire their own attorneys if they wished.
The department said it has no role in investigating ethics complaints against a governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general and that representing them in cases alleging ethics act violations would not constitute a conflict of interest.
Ethics complaints are referred to the state personnel board, which hires independent counsel to investigate such complaints.
The individual state officials “would be personally responsible to pay any fines or penalties associated with a violation,” according to the department.
It was not immediately clear what prompted the department to raise the issue now. But state Sen. Bill Wielechowski said this has been an ongoing topic of concern for members of the executive branch.
Republican former Gov. Sarah Palin has said an onslaught of records requests and ethics complaints that she called frivolous factored in to her decision to resign as governor in 2009.
Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat who had not yet seen the proposal Thursday, said if people are “weaponizing the ethics process and filing frivolous claims against people in the executive branch, then there could be some merit to allowing” representation by the Department of Law.
But he cited concerns with state resources being used in situations in which an executive branch official “genuinely committed ethics violations.”
The department is taking public comment on the proposed rules until Sept. 11.