Judge reverses himself on recall decision

Aarseth again clears the way for recall petition booklets to be printed

Just one day after ordering a temporary halt in a campaign to oust Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Alaska Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth reversed himself, putting the recall effort back on track.

Aarseth said that “the court inadvertently issued an order” on Tuesday, Jan 21, that halted the printing and distribution of signature booklets from the Alaska Division of Elections to the Recall Dunleavy campaign. The judge, having received opposition to the motion for stay, ordered that reply briefs to his latest decision to be due on Thursday, Jan. 23.

How the error occurred was not clear and nobody in the Alaska Attorney General’s office was immediately available for comment.

Former Alaska Attorney General Craig Richards, who now represents Stand Tall With Mike, said that the judge would decide on whether to grant a stay or not grant a stay based on the final motion practice. A motion practice is a request for relief from the court, a procedural device to bring a limited but contested issue before a court for decision.

The governor, who was in Vancouver, British Columbia, for a mining conference, was not available for comment, but issued a news release from Vancouver introducing four pieces of legislation related to his initiative of making Alaska open for business. The governor made no references to the litigation over recall efforts. Dunleavy is attending the Association of Mineral Exploration’s annual Roundup Conference, a gathering of several thousand people that promotes mineral exploration in the Pacific Northwest regions of Canada and the U.S.

“Judge Aarseth is clearly a very solid and very careful jurist,” said Scott Kendall, an Anchorage attorney who is counsel to Recall Dunleavy. “We appreciate that he recognized this inadvertent mistake and promptly corrected it in order to remove any doubts about the status of this case. Absent further action, there is no stay of his decision and recall petitions must be available no later than Feb. 10.”

“What is so important for folks to understand is there was an administrative mistake,” said Claire Pywell, campaign manager of Recall Dunleavy. “It was a temporary motion of confusion. We are planning signature gathering and kickoff events around the state. As the judge ordered, we anticipate getting the (signature) booklets on Feb. 10. We need to get those booklets in the hands of voters across the state to make sure they have the opportunity to participate in this movement powered by ordinary Alaskans.”

The recall group has offered four reasons to oust Dunleavy. They include violating Alaska law and the state constitution and misuse of state funds by unlawfully and without proper disclosure authorizing and allowing the use of state funds for partisan purposes to purchase electronic advertisements and direct mailers making partisan statements about political opponents and supports. Dunleavy opponents also contend that the governor “acted incompetently when he mistakenly vetoed approximately $18 million more than he told the Legislature in official communications he intended to strike. Uncorrected, the error would cause the state to lose over $40 million in additional federal Medicaid funds,” they said.

The decision came in the wake of Aarseth’s order on Jan 10 that backers of the recall should be allowed to gather enough signatures to proceed with a statewide vote on whether to recall Dunleavy, who was sworn in as governor of Alaska on Dec. 3, 2018.

“This court does not intend on granting a stay of that process,” the judge said.

On Jan. 15 the governor’s supporters filed a motion saying that Dunleavy backers with Stand Tall With Mike would suffer irreparable harm if the recall application was certified while the case in pending on appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court. STWM contends that if the governor faces a recall campaign, he will be less able to focus on fulfilling his campaign promises while defending against the recall effort.