Lawmakers file appeal to halt Troopergate case

October 3, 2008 5:12:47 PM PDT
Five Alaska lawmakers filed an emergency appeal Friday asking the state's Supreme Court to halt an investigation into abuse of power allegations by Gov. Sarah Palin before the findings are released next week. The independent investigator conducting the probe plans to turn over his conclusions by next Friday to the body that authorized the it, the Legislative Council. The five Republican lawmakers, none of whom are on the Legislative Council, claim the investigation is being manipulated to damage Palin before Election Day on Nov. 4.

The probe is looking into whether Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate, and others pressured Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan to fire a state trooper who was involved in a contentious divorce from Palin's sister and then fired Monegan when he wouldn't dismiss the trooper. Palin says Monegan was ousted over budget disagreements.

The five lawmakers sued to block the investigation or remove its overseers, but their lawsuit was dismissed on Thursday by an Anchorage judge.

Superior Court Judge Peter Michalski said the Legislature has the ability to investigate the circumstances surrounding the firing of a public officer the lawmakers had confirmed.

Plaintiffs' attorney Kelly Shackelford said Friday that Michalski overlooked the legislators' assertion of bias and conflict of interest by the investigation's overseers. He said that alleged bias violates a provision of the state constitution that says legislative and executive investigations cannot infringe on a person's right to "fair and just treatment."

The appeal asks the Supreme Court to rule that "the people involved with conduct that clearly violates the framework can't be a part of the investigation," Shackelford said. The legislators are asking for an expedited appeal process so that a decision is made by Thursday's close of business.

Defense attorney Peter Maassen said the Legislature is free to conduct an investigation as it sees fit and the judge's ruling confirmed the separation of power principles. An emergency appeal is unwarranted, he said, because by next Thursday the investigation will have already be completed - it will only remain to make it findings public.

"There's been no time in history that a court has suppressed the outcome of a legislative investigation," Maassen said.

Michalski also threw out a lawsuit filed by Palin aides seeking to dismiss subpoenas compelling their testimony in the investigation. The aides had argued that the subpoenas should not have to be honored because they should not have been issued.

It was not clear if those aides would join the appeal. Governor's spokesman Bill McAllister said Attorney General Talis Colberg has not yet spoken with the aides since the ruling was made.

Palin pledged her cooperation with the probe until she became Sen. John McCain's running mate. She has said through her lawyer that she only will cooperate with a separate investigation, one that she calls unbiased but is conducted in secret and can last for years.

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