Alaska Supreme Court takes up 'Troopergate' case
By MATT VOLZ, Associated Press Writer Matt Volz, Associated Press Writer – 1 hr 43 mins ago
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The Alaska Supreme Court will decide whether to block the findings of an abuse-of-power investigation due to be released next week that could be potentially damaging to Gov. Sarah Palin's vice presidential candidacy.
The court accepted an emergency appeal late Friday filed by six Alaska lawmakers who claim the investigation is being manipulated to hurt Palin before Election Day on Nov. 4. The court scheduled oral arguments for Wednesday on whether to suppress the probe's findings.
The independent investigator conducting the probe plans to turn over his conclusions by next Friday to the Legislative Council, the body that authorized it. The six Republican lawmakers, who are not on the Legislative Council, filed the emergency appeal after their lawsuit was dismissed by an Anchorage judge on Thursday.
The probe is looking into whether Palin, who is Republican Sen. John McCain's running mate, 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.
In dismissing the lawsuit, 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 wants the court to rule that the legislative investigation is unconstitutional. He said that alleged bias by the probe's overseers 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."
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. By the time the Supreme Court makes a ruling, the investigation will have already been completed — all that will remain will be to make its 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 be honored because they shouldn't 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 the vice presidential candidate. 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.
Maassen represents Senate Judiciary Chairman Hollis French, the Democratic project manager of the investigation; Sen. Kim Elton, Democratic chairman of the Legislative Council; the investigator, retired prosecutor Steven Branchflower; and the Legislative Council.
French said Sept. 2 that the results of the investigation could constitute an "October surprise" for the McCain campaign. He later apologized for the remark, but Palin's lawyer has said the biased impression it created can't be undone.