Crime & Courts

Alaska’s former acting attorney general appears in court on charges of sexual abuse of a minor

Ed Sniffen, court, acting attorney general

Alaska’s former acting attorney general appeared in an Anchorage courtroom Thursday for a hearing on three felony sexual abuse of a minor charges, accusations that prompted his resignation two years ago.

Clyde “Ed” Sniffen, 59 — who served as acting attorney general for roughly five months, from August 2020 to January 2021 — is accused of having sex with a 17-year-old girl he coached on an Anchorage high school mock trial team in 1991.

At an evidentiary hearing Thursday, Sniffen sat at the defense table on the third floor of the Nesbett Courthouse, watching as two detectives and Nikki White, the woman who came forward publicly in 2021 with the abuse allegations, answered questions about the case.

Sniffen had been selected by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to serve as attorney general permanently but abruptly resigned at the end of January 2021 as the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica were preparing an article detailing allegations of sexual misconduct with the 17-year-old girl that had unfolded three decades earlier.

White came forward with the allegations after hearing that Sniffen was expected to permanently remain the state’s top prosecutor. She said Sniffen was a coach of the West Anchorage High School mock trial competition team while she was a student there in 1991. He was 27 at the time.

Her relationship with Sniffen became sexual during a trip to New Orleans for a mock trial competition when she was 17, White has said. The sexual relationship continued for several years after they returned to Anchorage, she told reporters.

During Thursday’s hearing, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Erin Marston listened as Sniffen’s attorney, Jeffrey Robinson, and special prosecutor Gregg Olson questioned White and the two detectives involved in the case, one back in the 1990s and the other more recently.

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The testimony focused largely on details already released in court documents, including a police report filed in 1994 when one of the detectives opened an investigation into the same sex abuse claims after they were brought forward by White’s therapist.

White said at the time that she did not feel strong enough to proceed with the investigation and declined to be interviewed by authorities. The case was closed and had not been reopened until the allegations were made public in 2021. Another detective then began investigating the claims.

White, testifying by Zoom on Thursday, appeared measured as she answered questions from prosecutors and Sniffen’s defense attorney. She lives in California, where she moved in 1995.

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Sniffen was never arrested on the charges and initially appeared in court on a summons in June. He was not required to post monetary bail, but was ordered to notify the court of any travel outside of the state and to not contact White or discuss the case with witnesses.

The state’s investigation into the allegations spanned more than a year. Sniffen was charged in May and indicted by an Anchorage grand jury in September on the same three counts of sexual abuse of a minor by an authority figure.

The age of consent in Alaska is generally 16, but law dictates that it is illegal for an adult to have sex with a 16- or 17-year-old whom they are teaching, counseling or coaching.

Robinson, the attorney representing Sniffen, has filed two motions for the case to be dismissed.

Robinson wrote in the motions that the charges should be dismissed because the long delay between when the alleged abuse occurred and when the charges were filed violated Sniffen’s right to due process and falls outside of statue of limitations guidelines. The state opposed one of the motions. Olson said he plans to file an opposition to the second next week.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 24.

Sniffen declined to directly talk with a reporter following the hearing and directed questions to his attorney. Robinson said he could not comment on specifics about the case while it’s ongoing.

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Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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