Politics

Gov. Dunleavy is appealing a court ruling that said he violated the Constitution with transition firing of 2 doctors

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his former chief of staff will appeal a federal court ruling that concluded both men may be held personally liable for violating the state and federal constitutions by firing two Alaska Psychiatric Institute doctors in 2018.

On Thursday morning, an attorney representing Dunleavy and former chief of staff Tuckerman Babcock filed a notice of appeal stating that they intend to ask the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to appeal an order issued last month.

In that order, Alaska District Court Judge John Sedwick concluded that Dunleavy and Babcock acted illegally when they fired doctors Anthony Blanford and John Bellville during the administrative transition that took place after the 2018 statewide election.

Sedwick found Dunleavy and Babcock could be personally liable and are not protected by qualified immunity, the legal protection given to public officials working under their normal duties.

According to the notice of appeal, the defendants will ask for a review of the qualified immunity decision.

Sedwick has not yet issued a final judgment that could decide how much liability rests with the governor as an individual and the state of Alaska.

Attorney Brewster Jamieson, who represents Babcock and Dunleavy, declined to comment Thursday about the appeal.

Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Law, said the state is paying for the governor’s defense, “as this was within his scope and duties as governor.” A cost estimate was not immediately available.

Blanford and Bellville are being represented by the Alaska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“One would normally expect the defendants to appeal if they find themselves personally liable in a case like this, so it’s not a surprise at all,” said ACLU attorney Stephen Koteff.

A timeline for the appeal has not yet been set, but Koteff said some aspects of the case, including possible penalties against the state, may continue in district court.

The case began in 2018 after Dunleavy’s administration asked hundreds of state employees to submit letters of resignation during the transition from former Gov. Bill Walker.

Dunleavy’s chief of staff at the time, Tuckerman Babcock, said the letters were intended to confirm that employees wanted to work on Dunleavy’s agenda.

Blanford and Bellville refused to submit letters and were fired.

After they were fired, they sued with the help of the ACLU. A third person, attorney Libby Bakalar, also sued but is now pursuing a separate case that is expected to be decided later this year or early next year.

After receiving written arguments, Sedwick ruled on the doctors’ case in October.

“Defendants’ demand for the resignations of over 800 at-will employees, with acceptance or rejection of each resignation dependent upon an accompanying statement of commitment to state employment under the incoming administration, is sufficiently analogous as to its purpose and effect to be considered an unconstitutional patronage practice,” he said.

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