Saturday, April 04, 2009

Troopergate Coming to a Close in the Alaska Supreme Court

The Anchorage Daily News just published an article on the decision of the Alaska Supreme Court in regard to the legislators who filed an appeal.

The decision is related to the suit brought by the legislators and the standing decision is a non-issue. The appeal brought by those who were served subpoenas is still on appeal.

The full opinion can be found here

An interesting read on Winfree and Carpeneti and I am highlighting their key statements because it is basically what Talis Colberg stated during his testimony to Rep. Ramras.

WINFREE, Justice, with whom CARPENETI, Justice, joins,

I write separately to emphasize two separate but intertwining aspects of my support for the courts decision.

The constitutional right to fair and just treatment during a legislative investigation is a personal right. The court expressly notes that without a basis for third-party standing, as in this case, a litigant generally lacks standing to assert the personal constitutional rights of another. This strongly suggests to me that although the potential violation of an individuals personal constitutional rights may be a matter of great interest to the public, at least when the individual is the governor, it is not a matter of public significance upon which citizen-taxpayer standing may be grounded.

Our cases granting citizen-taxpayer standing have involved matters affecting rights and interests beyond a single individual.1 The matters in this case do not reach the level of public significance justifying citizen-taxpayer standing for the Keller plaintiffs; that others are in a better position to bring suit simply confirms my view.

The Keller plaintiffs oblique connection to the constitutional right to fair and just treatment suggests yet another reason to deny citizen-taxpayer standing. In contrast to the Kiesel plaintiffs case, the core of the Keller plaintiffs case does not really concern the protection of individual rights it concerns a dispute between legislators, in their official capacities, about the power and authority of the Legislative Council and how legislative investigations should be conducted.

This dispute raises legitimate and important questions, but we have long made clear our aversion to court involvement in internal disputes of the legislature.2 We have stated that courts may intervene to protect against the legislatures infringement of personal rights,3 but common sense suggests that intervention must be at the instance of one whose individual rights may be violated, not at the instance of legislators who oppose their colleagues use of legislative power. Concluding otherwise and recognizing citizen-taxpayer standing under these circumstances would allow an exception to swallow our rule of declining to decide political questions arising from internal legislative disputes.

Judge Michalski's comments in his ruling, go against the grain of Winfree and Carpeneti's comments to a "fair and just" as opposed to Michalski's recognition that the Legislative body is a political body.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out. I would expect that the Alaska Supreme Court would agree with Talis Colberg on the argument that each person served should be represented by council and have the right to question the legality of the subpoenas.

They may however be reluctant to rule on how they or when they were issued. In any of these events, the contempt charge wouldn't likely stand because the Court has stated that the court could involve itself when individual rights are infringed by legislative action.

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