Legislature hires attorneys to challenge Medicaid expansion

JUNEAU -- The Alaska Legislature has signed a contract for lawyers to take on Gov. Bill Walker's expansion of Medicaid, drawing criticism from some of its own members who had urged them to not continue after an early loss.

The contracts signed Tuesday for up to $450,000 include a signing bonus of $100,000, said Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage.

"I'm struggling to understand how Republican leadership has drifted so far from common sense, losing any sense of priority when it comes to serving the people of Alaska," Gardner said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

The Legislative Council, the Legislature's operating arm, decided in August to sue Walker and his commissioner of Health and Social Services, Val Davidson, to block expansion, but failed to get an injunction before the state began enrolling Alaskans in the program on Sept. 1.

Hired to represent the state are Bancroft PLLC in Washington, D.C., and Holmes Weddle and Barcott PC in Anchorage.

State Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, chair of the Council, signed for the state, along with other legislative leaders and employees. He did not return a phone call Wednesday.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner in August rejected the injunction sought by the legislators, saying the legislators weren't likely to win in the end. The Alaska Supreme Court declined to reverse Pfiffner. The case remains active.


On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, had a similar response in his criticism of Republican legislative leaders.

"I hope they are aware that we are facing a budget crisis. If they are, I can't understand why they would spend this kind of money on high-priced Washington, D.C., lawyers to litigate a case they are destined to lose," Tuck said.

Joining Gardner and Tuck in their opposition to continuing the lawsuit were all members of the five-member Senate Democratic Caucus and all 13 members of the Independent Democratic Caucus in the House.

The Legislative Council voted 11-1 earlier to advance the suit. Its sole minority member is Rep. Sam Kito, D-Juneau, the only member of the joint House-Senate committee to vote against the legal challenge.