Federal judge considers dispute between Landfield and Alaska governor over news conference access

Alaska District Court Judge Joshua Kindred will decide by next Friday whether or not Gov. Mike Dunleavy illegally excluded writer and website owner Jeff Landfield from news conferences.

Landfield, who runs the Alaska Landmine site, sued the governor in December, claiming that he was excluded because of the content of articles he had written. Landfield wants an injunction requiring the governor to admit him to news conferences.

“The list of reporters who may RSVP is limited to those associated with a traditional media outlet: broadcast radio stations, broadcast television stations, or subscription-based newspapers or other periodicals. No bloggers are approved to RSVP,” the state wrote in opposition to Landfield’s request for an injunction.

As someone who writes only for an online publication, Landfield does not fulfill that requirement, the state says.

Landfield’s attorneys, Lee Baxter and Matthew Singer, responded in writing that the state does invite the Alaska Education Update, an email-only newsletter, to news conferences.

Kindred heard oral arguments on Wednesday and said he expects to decide on that request by Jan. 22. In the meantime, Kindred has extended a temporary restraining order. If the governor calls a press conference before then, Landfield must be invited.

Landfield’s attorneys argued that the governor’s office is discriminating against Landfield for the content of his writing rather than his status as an online writer. Attorney Lael Harrison of the Alaska Department of Law responded that the governor’s office operates on a “discretionary, press conference by press conference, one at a time approach” when deciding who is invited to media events.

Kindred asked Harrison several questions, focusing on one particular question in particular: If there is no policy, how can someone contest their exclusion?

“It seems like a an untenable situation that our government could avoid any First Amendment implications by simply saying we don’t have any policy. And every press conference is whoever we want to invite at any given time, and there’s no vehicle by which an aggrieved party could address it,” he said.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.