From The Midnight Sun Memo, a brand-new newsletter project from your humble Midnight Sun editor. For everyone who’s been asking about keeping up via email or how to support the work we’ve been doing here, we finally have an answer in this nifty newsletter. Sign up now!
Late Friday afternoon, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration announced that long-time Department of Law attorney, acting attorney general following former Gov. Kevin Clarkson’s resignation for the sexual harassment of a junior state employee and attorney general-designee for 11 days Clyde “Ed” Sniffen had not just withdrawn from the position but also left state service.
By Saturday we’d find out why.
“Acting Alaska Attorney General Ed Sniffen’s abrupt resignation was announced Friday as the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica were preparing an article about allegations of sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old girl three decades ago,” the article by Anchorage Daily News’ Kyle Hopkins began, entitled “Sexual misconduct allegations prompt another Alaska attorney general to resign.”
The story details allegations that Sniffen, while a 27-year-old attorney at a local Anchorage law firm had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student on the mock trial competition team he coached. “I asked him for a virgin pina colada,” recalled Nikki Dougherty White, now 47, of the school trip where it began. “And what he brought me later I found out was not virgin and he actually had an extra shot added.”
There’s a lot of stomach-churning details in this story, but perhaps the most striking is that not only did “several Anchorage attorneys said they had been aware for decades that Sniffen had an inappropriate relationship with a young woman early in his career” but that such an open secret served as no apparent hinderance for Sniffen’s career.
Both he and the entire system were willing to look the other way as he climbed the ladder to the state’s top law enforcement position. As former state attorney Libby Bakalar—who was fired by Sniffen hours after Dunleavy was sworn in as part of the loyalty pledge firings—writes in her OneHotMessAlaska blog, “This Should Make Us All Very Mad.”
“The fact that Ed Sniffen thought for one second that he could simply slide into the top law enforcement job in Alaska—a state with the highest rates of sexual assault in the country—with an alleged sex felony against a minor in his background—tells you everything you need to know about how privileged and powerful men in positions of authority are accustomed to a consequence-free existence,” she writes.
“But you can hardly blame them. Experience and society tell them they’re entitled to it. Men and women alike fearfully and fawningly scoot them along and protect them, whether due to their own intimidation and ambition, or in the case of many women, the internalized misogyny that makes us leap to their defense and feel sorry for them even now.”
On its own, Sniffen’s resignation ought to be a platform for Alaska and the Alaska legal system to have a long, hard look in the mirror and explore meaningful changes that appropriately deals with all the other “open secrets” that have been allowed to fester.
But then again, that’s the sort of thing we were saying when Clarkson resigned only for the governor to stonewall and strong-arm press about what we later found out what as an effort to cover the whole thing up internally. And then again, this is an Alaska Bar Association that, as Bakalar reminds us, “had scheduled Alan Dershowitz—himself an accused minor sex offender—to be keynote speaker at its 2020 convention until ‘cancel culture’ came for the honor.”
Credit to Nikki Dougherty White, who picked up the phone to relive her story, credit to the Anchorage Daily News and Kyle Hopkins for carefully reporting the story and finding the records to back it up and credit to attorneys like Bakalar who can stand up and say, “This should make us all very mad.”