Dunleavy administration sued over firing of state employees

Two former state psychiatrists and a former assistant state attorney general are suing the Dunleavy administration for wrongful termination of their state jobs.

The lawsuit filed on Jan. 10 in Alaska Superior Court in Anchorage, the ACLU of Alaska named Gov. Mike Dunleavy, his chief of staff Tuckerman Babcock and the state of Alaska as defendants in the case brought by former Alaska Psychiatric Institute Director of Psychiatry Dr. Anthony Blanford, former API staff psychiatrist Dr. John Bellville and former Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth “Libby” Bakalar.

The lawsuit said that Bakalar submitted her resignation as required, but made clear that it was not voluntary, and that her termination came in retaliation for expressing her own political views on a popular blog.

The litigation stems from Dunleavy’s demand that non-political, non-policy-making state workers submit their resignations and, if they wanted to keep their jobs, reapply with a pledge of personal political support for Dunleavy’s and Babcock’s agenda.

Psychiatrists Blanford and Bellville declined to resign, contending that such a declaration would violate their ethical obligations to put the needs of their patients first. Because they exercised their First Amendment right to refuse to take an oath of political loyalty, Dunleavy and Babcock fired them, they said.

Bakalar noted that she worked for a dozen years for five different state administrations as an assistant attorney general, and that the cause of her firing was retaliation for views expressed in her blog, “One Hot Mess Alaska.”

“There is a misperception that because Alaska is an ‘at will’ state and these are ‘exempt’ or partially ‘exempt’ positions that the government can fire our clients for any reason” said Stephen Koteff, legal director for the ACLU of Alaska. “In fact, no employee can be fired or retaliated against for an illegal reason and no one loses their constitutional rights just by working in Alaska or serving the public, Koteff said. “It’s been more than 75 years since the United States Supreme Court said the government can’t force a person to say the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ and this is no different.”

“This kind of political retaliation against non-political state workers is an attack on the very foundation of free speech and good government,” Decker said. “Party bosses making political allegiance a de facto requirement for government service is the root of a corrupt spoils system America has worked to eradicate for over a century.

“We can’t let Mr. Babcock and Gov. Dunleavy bring it back. Alaskans don’t want their doctor, their pharmacist, or their veteran’s affairs worker putting a partisan agenda ahead of them.”

The ACLU said they expected an initial response through the court from the state in February.