Judge puts second phase of Dunleavy recall hold, reversing course from initial ruling

Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth listens to Recall Dunleavy campaign attorney Jahna Lindemuth during oral arguments on Friday, Jan. 10, 2020. (Photo by Matt Buxton/TMS)

Update: The Recall Dunleavy campaign has filed a 10-page motion arguing against the stay, arguing that the Stand Tall with Mike group is unlikely to win. The story has been updated with quotes from that motion.

When Anchorage Superior Court Eric Aarseth ruled in favor of the Recall Dunleavy campaign earlier this month, he said he wouldn’t be entertaining any efforts to put a halt to the signature gathering. That, he said, would be up to the Alaska Supreme Court to decide.

He’s since changed his mind.

Today, Aarseth granted a motion requested by the anti-recall Stand Tall with Mike group that effectively blocks the Division of Elections from issuing the booklets for the second round of signature gathering. Aarseth had set a Feb. 10 deadline for the state to issue the booklets unless stayed by the Alaska Supreme Court.

Aarseth found that all but one of the claims brought by Recall Dunleavy met the standards under Alaska’s recall laws. He reiterated that while they met those grounds, it would be up to the voters to decide whether they merited the governor’s removal from office.

Stand Tall with Mike filed its motion last week, arguing that the group and Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s supporters would be irreparably harmed if the signature gathering goes forward. Among the complaints, the group argued that Dunleavy would be distracted by the recall effort and unable to implement his agenda.

While the order turned heads for some of its legal arguments, it apparently won over Judge Aarseth. In today’s order granting the motion, Aarseth does not explain his rationale behind accepting the order.

In the grand scheme of things, today’s setback does not represent a major blow to the Recall Dunleavy campaign. The appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court—and a stay on the order to print the booklets—was expected to be made before the Feb. 10 deadline.

Claire Pywell, the campaign manager for Recall Dunleavy, released a statement reiterating that the campaign secured the victory in the Superior Court and that the legal battle will continue.

“Judge Aarseth has already ordered that our recall petition is valid, and that Alaskans are entitled to exercise their rights by obtaining recall petition booklets no later than February 10th.  Today, the judge appears to have put that order on hold pending further action by the Alaska Supreme Court,” she said. “It is very important to note that this latest order does not impact the merits of his primary ruling—the recall application that over 46,000 Alaskans signed is still valid. Recall Dunleavy intends to pursue all necessary procedures at every level to guarantee that Alaskans will have the opportunity to sign the recall petition as soon as possible.”

Following Aarseth’s order, the Recall Dunleavy campaign filed its own motion asking to be able to move ahead with the signature gathering process. The group argues that the Recall Dunleavy campaign is the one being harmed and that Stand Tall with Mike has not convincingly argued that it will either be harmed or win in the Alaska Supreme Court. The filing argues that the delays have already prevented Alaskans from weighing in on this budget cycle.

“If the recall application had been lawfully certified on Nov. 4, 2019, the day of the unlawful denial, Plaintiff expects it could have submitted sufficient signatures by the end of 2019, causing a recall election to be scheduled by early spring,” the group argues. “Alaskans could then have had a different governor  address the Legislature’s budget and other laws proposed during this upcoming session. Any and all delay in the recall process irreparably harms the rights of citizens of the State of Alaska to cause a recall election. Nothing other than the timely distribution of recall petition booklets could adequately protect Recall Dunleavy’s interests.”

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