Conviction of former assistant AG overturned - Must Read Alaska
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Monday, June 14, 2021
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Conviction of former assistant AG overturned

SHOE SHOPLIFTING, UNION ORGANIZING, AND A TANGLED CONSTITUTIONAL CASE

A former assistant attorney general who was convicted for using her position as the legal adviser to the Alaska Labor Relations Agency to benefit a close friend, landlord and union organizer, has had her conviction overturned because Troopers seized her computer and wrongly searched it for evidence. The Alaska Court of Appeals has ruled that even though the evidence was there, they had no reasonable cause to believe it would be, so it was a wrongful search and seizure.

The Troopers found plenty of evidence to get a conviction of Erin Pohland.

But because Pohland lived in a portion of a home owned by her friend, Skye McRoberts, Pohland argued that her rooms were equivalent to a separate living space, and could not be searched while Troopers went about establishing that McRoberts had been forging signatures for a union drive involving Alaska’s largest union — Alaska State Employees Association.

McRoberts in 2010 was charged with forging the signatures and altering documents in other ways in an effort to unionize some 1,500 University of Alaska employees who were not part of ASEA.

McRoberts submitted employee “interest” cards to the Alaska Labor Relations Agency. These cards were said to represent the interest of various University of Alaska employees in becoming members of the union. Under Alaska law, at least 30 percent of a proposed bargaining unit must express interest in becoming unionized.

Based on the sharp eye of an agency employee, the Labor Relations Agency came to suspect that a number of these interest cards might have been forged, so the agency asked Pohland for advice.

Pohland, however, was not only renting from McRoberts, but the two were also partners in crime. They were both accused of stealing shoes from Fred Meyer in a December caper, when they removed the electronic theft tags off of shoes and attempted to leave the store with about $1,000 worth of unpaid merchandise. They were charged with misdemeanors.

[Read more about the  shoe shoplifting caper here]

When the Labor Relations Agency was reaching out to Pohland for advice on McRoberts in 2010, little did they know she was consulting on the matter with McRoberts.

In its charges against Pohland, the State alleged she failed to tell the Agency that she and McRoberts were close and that she lived in an apartment within McRoberts’s home. The two spoke about McRoberts’s unionizing efforts regularly, and she had even assisted McRoberts in her role as a union organizer

The state was taking advice, in other words, from someone who was colluding with the accused party.

By March of 2011, Alaska State Troopers had obtained a warrant to search McRoberts’s house for evidence that she and her husband, Donavahn McRoberts, had committed forgery and falsification of business records relating to the forged cards.

The search warrant allowed troopers to search the house for any kind of documents that could support the case against the McRoberts.

At this time, Troopers were already aware of the conflict of interest that Pohland had with Skye McRoberts and the Labor Relations Agency. They knew the agency had sought advice from Pohland on the forgery situation, and they knew the advice Pohland gave the agency was suspect.

The search warrant affidavit spelled it out: Pohland’s advice to the Labor Relations Agency “did not follow the guidelines for forged Interest Cards laid out in a National Labor Relations Manual”.

The warrant also noted that Pohland “failed to advise [the Agency] to contact law enforcement to investigate the matter”, and that she failed to tell the Labor Relations Agency that she was good friends with McRoberts and that McRoberts was her landlord.

The search warrant issued by the district court said troopers could seize and search any computer or electronic storage media “capable of concealing documents related to the business and finances associated with Donavahn McRoberts or Skye McRoberts.”

But later, the Troopers and prosecutor assigned to the case acknowledged that at the time of the search, they didn’t have probable cause to believe Pohland was complicit in McRoberts’s crimes.

The question during appeals was whether Pohland’s computer was in the McRoberts’ residence or in what could truly be considered a separate apartment. The suite of rooms had their own bathroom, kitchen and laundry facility, but not a separate entryway.

Troopers searched the suites and seized a laptop that belonged to Pohland. On it, they found numerous text messages between Pohland and Skye McRoberts, discussing McRoberts’ effort to unionize university workers.

The text messages became part of the State’s case against Pohland when she was later charged with official misconduct for the advice that she gave to the Labor Relations Agency.

The appeals court overturned the district court’s conviction because the search warrant application did not establish probable cause to seize and search Pohland’s laptop computer.

“For these reasons, we conclude that the search of Pohland’s laptop computer violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 14 of the Alaska Constitution. The evidence against Pohland obtained as a result of that search must be suppressed,” according to the Appeals Court decision.

[Read the entire Appeals Court decision here]

Pohland, who is no longer working for the State of Alaska and has been disbarred here, has since left the state. She is now a freelance legal researcher and writer in Pittsburgh.

In 2013, Skye McRoberts was convicted of forgery in the second degree in Anchorage and sentenced to spend three years on felony probation and to pay $25,248.10 in restitution to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development and $9,094.10 to the University of Alaska.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Caught red-handed and released by some left-wing judges in the Appeals Court. The judges are probably pro-union Democrats. But the larger story here is the importance that the Executive Branch (Governor) be able to send all of these Asst. AGs packing and allow for new, non-criminal attorneys to apply. That would be a great start for Dunleavy.

  • Marla I agree wholeheartedly. When reading about the resignation letters this kind of criminality was the first thing that came to mind.

  • Nothing happened to them for the shoes and now this.

  • It’s okay, expected, how our modern Alaskan Deep State does business…
    .
    What’s rude is expecting productive Alaskans to believe this bit of kabuki was but an accident, a misstep by hard-working, lifelong professionals whose only care is protecting us from ourselves.

  • This case is a graphic example of why Alaska desperately needs a Solicitor General to handle the State’s litigation and the Solicitor General must have the protection of removal only for cause during a fixed term. Practically every bit of the State’s litigation just goes on the auction block in a gubernatorial election. The underlying events took place in the Parnell administration and, I think the Superior Ct. decisions as well, but the appeal to the Court of Appeals took place under the union-owned Walker Administration.

    What jumped out to me was that there was no discussion of any argument as to just how personal that personal cellphone and personal laptop really were, but we do know that it was Pohland’s practice to transfer text messages from her cell to her laptop. Was that a truly personal cellphone, or a State cellphone? Was that a truly personal laptop or a State laptop, and even if they were truly personal was State business conducted on either one or both of them? It appears the essence of the matter was her dealings with and communications with the union organizer and the ALRA and that is State business and even if not on a State device the communication is the property of the State. If any of the communications were over the State’s network, the State has them and could get them and turn them over to law enforcement without a warrant or even so much as a “by your leave.”

    Now, I don’t know the facts well enough to know whether that would have been a fruitful line of inquiry and argument, but it seems there should be some reference to it. Which brings me to my real point; we have no idea how this really was investigated or argued. My experience with the Troopers and white collar crime is that they had trouble catching a cold and I tried to use local police where they were available. So, maybe the Troopers never asked the State for Pohland’s email records, maybe the State never offered, but we don’t know and it seems this is a line of inquiry that should have been addressed if only to dismiss it.

    The bottom line is that as a State manager you simply cannot trust the Department of Law, and you especially cannot trust them over a change of party transition. I watched them sandbag all of Governor Hickel’s state’s rights cases so that there would be something pending during the election and they had them racked and stacked so that the Knowles Administration could sell all the pending matters to Democrat constituencies. They went so far as to drop them with prejudice so they can never be raised again. I won an ALRA case excluding certain employees from coverage of the bargaining law and the unions appealed to the Superior Court. It should have been heard in the Anchorage or Juneau Superior Court but Law helped or let it get moved to Ketchikan and away from prying eyes where they managed to lose a meritorious case and then the incoming Knowles Administration sold the appeal to the AKSC to the unions. They tried to do the same thing with my case removing non-permanent employees from a bargaining unit but for once an AAG was at least a little responsible and only settled it non-prejudicially so one day it could be brought up again. I had dozens of Marine Highway employees disciplined or dismissed for cheating on residency pay and headed for arbitration, court, or both. Law was instrumental in selling all of the ones with the licensed unions to the unions other than one in which I got some sweet vengeance. I’d already had the union rep threaten me that I would never get one of those cases to an arbitrator or judge, and the union-bought AG was making the same noises the union was, but the administration wasn’t willing to take the political risk of just brazenly dropping the one case that was already before an arbitrator, so the AG bet that the union’s Hahvud lawyer could beat me. I beat her like a rented mule, kept their boy fired, and sent the union a huge bill for the arbitrator’s service.

    There are a lot more stories where those came from and the quadrennial auction of State pending litigation needs to be stopped. I don’t care that the State lawyers aren’t having a happy Thanksgiving; some of them need to be wondering how they’re going to make their mortgage payment.

  • Well stated and informative, Art. What we have here, is a version of the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal which involves use of a supposedly secure address being used on a public server. Misuse of the government resources. In 2010, Republican Joe Miller used a government computer during his lunch hour for a private matter and it cost him a legitimate shot at an Alaska US Senate seat. The Democrat’s double standard seems to always work in their favor thanks to the Democrat media. We can thank Suzanne for her courage to allow the truth to get out there.

    • I agree with you about the double standard, but when Joe Miller used a government computer, it was no longer a private matter.

  • The Court of Appeals demonstrates how far the judicial branch will go to prevent anyone of and from the Left being held responsible for a bad act. It is absolutely obscene. If Ms. Pohland had been of and from the Right, the Court would have affirmed the conviction and twenty year jail term without comment.

    Memo to the Court of Appeals: Consider for a moment the concept of “equal justice under law.” Now think about the attitudes of the public about the courts. Finally, give half a minute of thought to how your decision in this case is going to be received. And enjoy your retention election.

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