ANCHORAGE—The lawsuit over the state’s rejection of the Dunleavy recall application will be resolved quickly, just not quite as quickly as the Recall Dunleavy campaign had hoped.
The parties involved in the case today agreed to a timeline that will see the case reach oral arguments on Jan. 10, 2020. A ruling would be expected by the end of January under that timeline, though all parties agreed the case is destined to head to the Alaska Supreme Court before the recall can move ahead with the final stage of signature gathering.
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth heard arguments from the Dunleavy Recall campaign and an attorney for the Alaska Division of Elections as well as attorneys with the independent expenditure group opposing the recall Stand Tall With Mike, which joined the lawsuit today.
The Dunleavy Recall campaign sought a fast resolution for the case, arguing that with the upcoming legislative session that Alaskans should have the opportunity to weigh in on whether or not it should be Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy holding the veto pen by the time the budget is approved by the Legislature.
Susan Orlansky, an attorney for the Recall Dunleavy campaign who was joined by former Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, proposed a timeline that would see oral arguments in the first week of December. She also said the campaign was prepared to file its briefing for summary judgement as early as this afternoon.
She opposed arguments by the state and the anti-recall campaign that more time was needed. She said the recall’s legal arguments have been known for months, that Attorney General Kevin Clarkson has already issued a 25-page opinion rejecting the recall and that the Stand Tall With Mike group has had counsel for at least a month.
“While I would ordinarily be a lot more sympathetic to the counsel on the other side saying, ‘These are complicated issues, we need time to research them.’ They’ve already had a lot of time to research it,” she said. “We think in terms of getting quality briefing to your Honor, we don’t think it’s unrealistic to make it go quickly.”
She also argued that delays to the case are detrimental to everyone involved, not just people wishing to see the governor removed from office.
“I think everyone would be advantaged by a speedy decision. We get to an election, and if we get to an election the whole state will know who’s going to be governor for the next three years and it’s better to know that sooner rather than live in continued uncertainty,” she said.
Alaska Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh argued that the recall campaign wasn’t due a fast resolution just because it wanted one and said the normal civil process should be suitable for the case, but ultimately proposed a timeline that Judge Aarseth said was still a fast resolution.
Her proposal, which is what Aarseth ultimately agreed with, puts oral arguments for Jan. 10, 2020 and a resolution to the case expected by the end of January.
Attorneys for the Stand Tall With Mike campaign, Brewster Jamieson and former Attorney General Craig Richards, didn’t discuss their specific legal challenges to the recall. They added that they’re still in the process of reviewing whether the application even met the technical requirements for a recall.
The Division of Elections found the application met the technical requirements, gathering more than enough signatures to satisfy the 28,501 signatures required to initiate a recall of a state official. In fact, the state found an unprecedented 95 percent of the nearly 50,000 signatures came from qualified voters.
The attorneys for the anti-recall campaign argued for a longer timeline to resolve the case, proposing a timeline that would put a resolution to the case sometime in mid-February if not later. They argued that anything faster would deprive the group it’s ability to challenge the recall and potentially undermine the almost certain appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.
Aarseth ultimately agreed that a faster process is in the public interest, especially with the Legislature set to meet on Jan. 21 and begin its process of putting together a budget.
“I do think it’s very important that we make a prompt decision for the certainty of everyone involved. You don’t want to get too far in the process, but I think there’s always a question for the Legislature if they approve this project or that project,” he said. There’s a lot of people that are affected collaterally with this question in mind in terms of what is going to happen, if anything is going to happen in terms of leadership of this state.”
Aarseth also addressed the claims that a faster schedule would rush things.
“I reject the framing in terms of the rush to judgment. I don’t think this is a rush to judgment by expediting things,” he said. “We’re going to take the time necessary to make the arguments and make a decision. I don’t think that’s a rush. We’re not being careless or cavalier. … I will take the time necessary to be confident in the decision that I make.”
Why it matters
The Recall Dunleavy campaign might not be getting the fastest resolution possible, but the agreed-upon timing is faster than the normal civil process that the state and the anti-recall campaign have suggested would be adequate.
Whatever ruling Aarseth reaches, the case will be appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court where we can expect to hear another round of arguments over what timeline the court should set for its resolution.
That final resolution will decide when (and if) the Recall Dunleavy campaign can move forward with its effort to collect the 71,252 signatures needed to call the special election to remove Dunleavy from office.
The timing of the legislative session is also not just practical in terms of deciding who wields the veto pen once the Legislature approves the budget, but also will play a big role in fueling the political energy for the recall effort.
The recall got a strong start with outrage over the governor’s budget vetoes delivered in late June, and we could expect potentially similar boosts when the governor releases his initial budget in December, his final budget in February and whenever the budget is signed into law, likely sometime between late April and July 1.
There’s a long road ahead. Stay tuned.