In yet another dubious move by the Alaska Court System, Judge Stephanie Joannides awarded the news blog Alaska Dispatch an inordinate sum totaling almost 100K in legal fees from the Miller v. FNSB court case. Joe Miller was ordered to pay 85K, this despite the fact that the majority of the fees were billed either before Miller intervened in the case or after they were a relevant party to the case.
The Alaska Dispatch remained party to the case long after the Anchorage Daily News and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reasonably withdrew, and had agreed not to petition the court for legal fees.
To any remotely objective observer, the Dispatch had no legitimate reason to remain party to the case outside of the source material they may have been able to gain through first-hand observation of the Borough depositions, a raw profit motive, or perhaps prurient interest.
In fact, Dispatch attorneys even admitted that they had no reason to be in the case, given that Mr. Miller had filed no action against them. Yet they still sought fees long after the case was decided in their favor, and from actions they had unilaterally undertaken, dating all the way back to Sept. 2010, weeks before Miller intervened in the case.
How is Miller responsible for expenses accrued by the Dispatch's lawsuit against the Borough before he chose to intervene? Or for the debts accumulated long after they ceased to be a relevant party to the case?
Following is the breakdown of the fee schedule stated in Mr. Miller's appeal:
“According to Alaska Dispatch’s counsel, he billed 123.1 hours of attorney’s fees from September 9, 2010 through October 19, 2010, when Mr. Miller intervened in this lawsuit; 34.6 hours from October 20, 2010 through October 26, 2010, when Alaska Dispatch obtained its relief; and 291 hours after October 27, 2010, while the cross-claims and third-party claim between Mr. Miller and FNSB/Whitaker were being litigated.”
Equally troubling is how Judge Joannides was assigned to the case in the first place, and subsequent revelations that she had a financial relationship with a Dispatch employee.
Under normal circumstances a judge would be assigned through a random selection process. However, in the FNSB case, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court intervened and hand-picked Judge Joannides. This is a very rare move, perhaps unprecedented outside of this particular case.
Moreover, Judge Joannides had rented her basement apartment to an Alaska Dispatch employee, but claimed that the fact was irrelevant to the case. This begs the question of whether it was a random coincidence. Does the Judge have further relationships with other folks at the Dispatch?