Dunleavy settles on loyalty pledge firings, leaving state on the hook for nearly $500,000

Gov. Mike Dunleavy. (Photo by Matt Buxton/TMS)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s violation of the First Amendment rights of two former Alaska Psychiatric Institute doctors is set to cost the state nearly a half-million dollars.

The ACLU of Alaska announced the settlement today, which will award Dr. Anthony Blanford $220,000 and Dr. John Bellville $275,000 for damages, lost wages and attorney’s fees. Both had refused to sign onto Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s political agenda as part of the governor’s now-infamous loyalty pledge firings issued when he took office. The payment requires action by the Legislature.

A federal judge ruled in October that the governor’s demands that several hundred non-union state employees sign onto his political agenda if they wanted to continue working for the state following his election constituted a violation of their First Amendment rights. The case was particularly critical of the actions of Dunleavy and former Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock because neither Blanford nor Bellville were directly involved in political policymaking.

In a separate lawsuit, a judge ruled that the administration was wrong to fire former state attorney Libby Bakalar—who had been critical of Trump and other conservatives outside of her work—but said such a firing would have been permissible if the Dunleavy administration had proved her personal political leanings interfered with her work as an attorney, which is a policymaking position. The court has yet to rule on what compensation Bakalar is due.

The judge in the Blanford and Bellville case had ruled both Dunleavy and Babcock could be held personally liable for their actions, but they had appealed that element of the ruling. This settlement leaves the state on the hook for the bill, requiring the legislature appropriate money through its regular budget process.

The settlement in the case brought by Blanford and Bellville includes a promise from the administration will not use non-policymaking employees’ political leanings against them:

“Defendants agree that the state of Alaska may only take an employee’s political views or affiliations into account in making any employment-related decision when the state determines through reasonable and bona fide efforts that the employee is properly categorized as a ‘policymaker’ under existing case law, or it is a position for which political view or affiliations are an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the job, or when otherwise permitted by law.”

In prepared statements released through the ACLU of Alaska, Bellville said he hoped the case would set a clear precedent for future employees and future administrations.

“In this country we’re not supposed to have to sacrifice our freedom of thought in order to keep our jobs. I hope the Governor of Alaska stops doing this to the people he is supposed to be governing,” Bellville said. “We elected him with the expectation that he would protect our freedom of speech rights, not force us to give them up under the threat of losing our livelihood. … I hope this clarifies and strengthens the rights of those who work in government and who are not political appointees. No incursion on our basic constitutional rights should go unchallenged.”

The settlement

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