Two judges, two decisions: Can Alaska's governor call a special session in Wasilla? - Must Read Alaska
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Saturday, December 7, 2019
HomePoliticsTwo judges, two decisions: Can Alaska’s governor call a special session in Wasilla?

Two judges, two decisions: Can Alaska’s governor call a special session in Wasilla?

A Fairbanks Superior Court judge said he’s leaning toward dismissing a lawsuit by a Republican former lawmaker against Senate President Cathy Giessel and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon for not convening a special session in Wasilla, as determined by the governor this summer.

But while Judge Michael MacDonald said he believes Al Vezey, the former legislator from North Pole, doesn’t have standing to bring a lawsuit, an Anchorage Superior Court judge has accepted a mirror-image lawsuit by two Democrats against Gov. Mike Dunleavy for calling the special session in Wasilla.

Anchorage attorneys Mary Geddes and Kevin McCoy filed the lawsuit against Dunleavy on behalf of themselves. They do have standing, said Anchorage Superior Court Judge Josie Garton.

These cases are two sides of the same coin, dealing with whether a governor has the right to determine the location of a special session that he calls — a duty granted to him in a statute passed in 1959.

And they both are passing through the determination of whether the plaintiffs have “standing” to bring such a lawsuit.

While the judge in Anchorage decided the Democrat plaintiffs have standing, the judge in Fairbanks wants more proof from the Republican plaintiff that he can bring such a lawsuit — or else the judge says he will probably dismiss it.

On Friday, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Garton said that although the dispute over that particular special session is over, there is an underlying question that hasn’t been decided, which is why she wants the case to go forward: Does the governor of Alaska have the authority to not only call a special session, but to name the location? Or is that unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch of government.

Garton, in a 27-page order, denied the State’s attempt to have the case dismissed on the grounds of standing.

Garton noted that there are different kinds of standing and that Geddes and McCoy are in the citizen-taxpayer category. This “standing” measure was part of the argument the State made in an effort to have this case dismissed.

Although the governor eventually capitulated and moved the special session to Juneau, where it was conducted and concluded, the question of the constitutionality of his first special session call is what the case is about. Attorneys Geddes and McCoy amended their original lawsuit and are now seeking a declaratory judgment that the governor overstepped his constitutional authority.

The State argued to the Anchorage judge that the whole issue was a political dispute and those disputes should not be decided by a court.

Garton wrote that while both parties agree the issue is moot because the governor ultimately amended his proclamation and moved the special session to Juneau, this matter rises to the level of “public interest,” which is an exception to the “mootness doctrine.”

But back in Fairbanks, Judge MacDonald requested that both parties in that lawsuit issue briefs about whether Vezey has legal standing.

“Unless the plaintiff is able to establish that he has either interest-injury or citizen-taxpayer standing, this Court will be obliged to dismiss the case due to lack of subject-matter jurisdiction,” MacDonald wrote. MacDonald has said that Vezey’s “public interest” standing argument is no good.

Vezey, through his attorney William Satterberg, is now trying the citizen-taxpayer argument.

The brief by Giessel and Edgmon’s attorney argue that Vezey doesn’t have that standing either, nor any other.

“Mr. Vezey’s Complaint fails to identify any interest of his that was adversely affected by the Defendants’ conduct here. Instead, he points out that the only persons who were allegedly adversely affected were those legislators who assembled in Wasilla — not Mr. Vezey. There is no indication, evidence, or even allegation that the location of the special session was likely to — or did — cause Mr. Vezey any sort of harm.”

But Vezey wrote that he pays taxes and fees for his professional licensing, pays for his state-mandated continuing education, pays taxes through purchases of motor, aviation, and marine fuel, and has numerous other dealings with the State of Alaska as a business owner. Beyond that, he’s received a Permanent Fund Dividend every year since 1982.

These things, he wrote, give him standing as a citizen-taxpayer, especially since the Legislature has chosen to curtail dividends and use a portion of them for government during the past three cycles of the oil wealth check, rather than issue them in full to qualified citizens.

Judge MacDonald is considered left-leaning and if he decides against accepting Vezey as a valid plaintiff, the case will likely be appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court.

(Editor’s note: Mary Geddes is a registered Democrat and her co-plaintiff Kevin McCoy is a registered Nonpartisan; they share the same address and both signed the petition to recall the governor. For these reasons, they are referred to as Democrats in this story.)

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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

  • More proof the budget for the courts system is still way to high and should have been cut further,,,

  • Why waste time and money on a preliminary trial, when everyone knows the outcome? Also, the Alaska Supreme Court justices have already publicly proven they’re in the left corner, politically. If a politically non-bias ruling by the “Alaska supremes” is expected on the issue, people must be somewhat delusional. That’s why there are laws against conflicts of interest. Politics. Something the Supreme Court justices are mandated to stay out of except when regarding valid constitutional issues in connection with said politics. Not publicly participate in the political process itself (which they’ve already done), using their office as a political platform. How can Alaskans expect a non-partisan, legally correct ruling when the very judges that will hear the issue have already made their political positions public, by promoting the leftist agenda against the Governor’s budget cuts?

    • Even our Supremes can have conflicts of interest, as witnessed by their original decision regarding Governor Hammond’s Permanent Fund Dividends being determined by length of residency. And, as in that decision, if the argument has merit it can be bounced to the US Supreme Court.
      What you are arguing has no merit however IMO. Best wait for the ruling and then decide if you want to waste your money appealing. Heheh!

      • Bill,
        I see you’re still out there in left field. The supremes can have any conflict they want. As long as they keep it out of the public purview. I can’t recall any supreme court justices anywhere (including federal) that have publicly promoted one party’s agenda over the other. The idea remains, I see several conflicts of interest. Why defy tradition and statute to start with? Is that the new left turn? Now days, it’s “guilty until proven democrat”(not my words but appropriate).

        • Well Ben, I gave you the remedy should you believe a conflict has occurred. And it has nothing to do with left/right or party.
          Whine all you want now (before any decision), but like I said wait for the decision and then decide if you want to appeal.

  • People need to remember these judges come election night.

    • Okay. When was the last time you elected a judge in Alaska?

  • If “taxpayer standing” is valid in the one jurisdiction, it should be in the other. That’s just common sense as long as both parties are taxpayers. If the judges can’t see that, I’m wondering why we have much faith in them at all.

    • Yessir Dave, all that law-schooling is plain unnecessary and we should place our faith in your opinion about common sense. Heheh!

      • If ignorance of the law is no excuse, then each and every one of us should be able to understand the law. And having worked in the legal field, I already know that laws should be written in such a way that each and every one of us should be able to understand it. It shouldn’t take a law degree, else ignorance of the law IS an excuse.

        • We’re talking judges here Mandy! While there are cases of judges without law degrees, they are in the very minority.
          At any rate, a lay person’s opinion on common sense is hardly a reasonable mandate to hold down a job of judge. The legal arguments that come up regularly in trials are made understandable by these judges so every one of us can understand them. What you think about how laws are written have little to do with it IMO.

      • Thanks Bill, you’re right that not everyone will agree on my idea of commonsense. But still, this concept of a taxpayers-citizens interest does not seem that difficult to understand…years of college or not. I, you, and everybody else who live under the government of Alaska have an inherent interest in seeing this question settled.

        • And there will be several briefs written on the matter with a judge determining the proper argument IMO.

  • Yet another example of judicial disparity between the 3rd Judicial District and the 4th Judicial District. The Superior Court judges in Alaska are supposed to make rulings that aren’t in conflict with state law…..yet they do. Blame this on judicial activism by Left-wing judges. Judges are supposed to deliver reasoned decisions that are thought-out in uniformity with all of Alaska’s judicial districts, not through a political process by the courts. The Alaska Supreme Court will have to weigh-in and straighten-out these “beyond the bounds,” activists in black robes. Otherwise, their legal opinions are nothing more than a reflection of their politics.

    • Good point, Marla. When different judicial districts make rulings that are not in conformity, then it tells you that the law is not being properly interpreted and is misapplied. Superior Court judges need to make decisions that can be predictable across all of the judicial districts. Otherwise, these judges are abusing their discretion and setting themselves up for reversals. This is costly, time consuming for all parties and not the way the law is intended to be practiced.

  • Having a session in two different locations at once costs (unnecessarily) more money. The taxpayer supplies the money. The taxpayer is harmed. The taxpayer has standing. Gee, that was a toughie.

  • The Fairbanks judge apparently isn’t considering the fact that MOST Alaskans are not able to be heard by their representatives when they’re all the way in Juneau. They might as well be dealing law in Seattle for the lack of accessibility to their constituents that Juneau affords.

    • Perhaps, if said Alaskans cannot read or write. Bet you are beside yourself that the Nation’s government takes place in Washington DC where access is a problem??
      If you are seeking access and cannot e-mail or send a POM then your problem is not access IMO.

      • Bill,
        Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother to rebut your nonsense. On the subject of accessibility to Juneau and our reps there. Being a thousand miles and a semi expensive plane ticket to get there, coupled with expensive accommodations once you do get there, it’s out of reach for many. Juneau is an ok city but it sure doesn’t serve the constituency (citizens) responsible for sending their ‘representatives’ there. Completely cut off and isolated from answering to their particular constituents. That’s what our legislators are. Sending a POM or email is no where near the same as addressing your elected politicians in real life. The electronic media is fine for anonymous messages or simple questions. Other than that, not so much. You can’t see expressions, tells or body language that speak volumes on the electronic plane. What you see, if anything, in return for your ‘messaging’, is a bunch of reasons on your monitor, most likely from an aide, being used to try and justify their actions. Most times, there’s no response. Face to face, that isn’t likely to happen. The average Alaskan can’t afford to shuttle forth and back to Juneau. Maybe that’s ok with you. It’s not with me and many like me.

        • Well Ben, when Alaskans learned the costs of moving the capital it was not OK with them. You may be willing to spend the dough but the rest of the State spoke rather clearly. And the average Alaskan doesn’t need to visit their reps.-they didn’t when the Legislature was held in Anchorage, so your above arguments are just bluster. Tough noogies!

  • Bill,

    You sure have proven your legal expertise…https://law.justia.com/cases/alaska/supreme-court/2017/s-16098.html

    • Good Lord! I actually read the entire thing. It’s a cold morning with my coffee and wanted to start the day with a good laugh. What an incredible waste of resources. Sixteen pages to describe Mr. Yankee’s idiocy and over zealous nature. Jonesing over a frigging fence. A wire fence. A fence not in his subdivision.
      .
      He started with the idea it violated plat notes. It morphed into “duckies can’t get back and forth to ponds”. He suggested the neighbors cut holes in their fence so the duckies can get through. He takes the low height, wire fence, NIMBY to the highest court in AK. The time, energy, and resources on this is nauseating.
      .
      I stopped replying to anything Bill says a long time ago. I’d rather eat lead paint chips.
      .
      Thanks Steve, for sharing this little nugget of intel. My take away is I’m blessed to not have this guy as my “friendly neighbor”. No Alaska neighbor helping neighbor spirit here!

      • Well Liberal, you failed to understand the issue involved but that’s no surprise as those lead chips have taken their toll.
        The issue was (and still is) whether/not a fence can be placed in a do not disturb greenbelt. Structures are not allowed and a fence is a structure. Has nothing to do with “friendly neighbor” either, or ducks for that matter. By the way, it was the City’s suggestion that holes be cut for the ducks and those holes are still there.
        However it did involve the issue of “standing” which hasn’t been determined as yet, either-the City, in this case, has taken the position that only someone who lives in the subdivision has standing. That position assumes a fence only has one side (that facing interior to the subdivision) and that property owners adjacent have no standing. Anyway, that position was not dealt with so verdict is still out. And no more fences have been placed.

        • Bill,

          The AK Supreme Court disagrees with your opinion about standing, and you do not have it according to them.

          • The Supreme Court didn’t rule on standing and I did not say that I had standing. Further, the ruling was that I had the option of suing the property owner-now how would that be possible if I did not have standing?

          • Bill,

            Here is a summary of the Supreme Court opinion:

            “Yankee complained about the fence to the Director of Juneau’s Community Development Department, but the Director responded that the fence was allowed, citing longstanding policy. Yankee then appealed to the Planning Commission, which affirmed the Director’s decision. Yankee next appealed to the Juneau Assembly, which rejected his appeal for lack of standing. Yankee appealed this decision to the superior court, which affirmed the Assembly’s reliance on standing as grounds to reject the appeal. Yankee then appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, which concluded the Director’s decision was an appropriate exercise of his enforcement discretion, not ordinarily subject to judicial review.”

            I’m not sure where you are getting your legal advice, but it clearly is not a good source.

          • Bill,

            You said “I did not say that I had standing” but the court record states “Yankee’s opening brief in this appeal focused on the issue of standing”. So are we to believe you now, or the court record?
            .
            You do understand that you appealed to the superior court based upon the finding of the Juneau Assembly that you had no standing, and that the superior court upheld the assemblies findings and that is the very case you brought to the AK Supreme Court and the reason they didn’t rule on your standing is because it should have and was resolved at the CDD Director level and should not have advanced past that point?
            .
            It’s worth repeating here “the Alaska Supreme Court, which concluded the Director’s decision was an appropriate exercise of his enforcement discretion, not ordinarily subject to judicial review.”

          • Four-Flusher, you’ll notice that the Supreme Court did not rule on “standing” as I initially said. You, on the other hand, said ” The AK Supreme Court disagrees with your opinion about standing, and you do not have it according to them.” As I never stated that I had “standing” you’ll want to point out where it is that the Court disagrees with me. Heheh! And in case anyone on here wants to know why it is that you have gotten the handle “Four-Flusher” it should be apparent.

          • Further Four-Flusher, you do understand that appealing a previous decision is a large part of our legal system. The Supreme Court could have ruled on my “standing” and chose not to for their own reasons. They didn’t need that issue to rule against me. That said, obviously my arguments were that I had “standing” and I still believe that I do for reasons that are too numerous for here. And SC did not go there so the issue is one left should the issue be litigated against the property owner-The SC also did not rule on the issue of whether/not the fence violated the plat notes. There is little doubt that “standing” would come up should such litigation take place. Just a note here that the Superior Court judge (who ruled I did not have standing) is the same judge who ruled that Roland Maw’s PFD case be dismissed because the State did not show that it was him that filled out the paperwork for his PFDs. Maw would have needed to sign them and cash the checks but perhaps it was a monkey at the keyboard that filled them out.
            Anyway, you clearly don’t know what you speak of here and will insist that somehow I’m disagreeing with SC decision. This decision was explained rather well in the summary but if you need to read the actual decision that’s possible, also.

          • Good point Bill, I was wrong with what I said before the AK Supreme Court ruled that standing shouldn’t even be considered since your entire case was without merit and “not ordinarily subject to judicial review.” That’s why they didn’t address your opening brief in your appeal where you focused on the issue of standing.

      • Liberal,

        Sure is an interesting bit of insight, really puts things in perspective. A guy who doesn’t understand the law (and has the court records to prove it) is telling other people that they don’t understand the law.
        .
        It really is a bonus that this issue is about standing and Bill still apparently thinks he has it even after the AK Supreme Court (and every single governing authority along the way) ruled he doesn’t.

        • See above comment Four-Flusher.

        • That’s the leftist way! Scream and rant and rave until you get your way. It matters not what the supremes say. And he reminded me above that a fence has two sides. So apparently he has a right to the side he has to look at. Hmmmm… isn’t this a wire fence? Good thing I don’t have to look at his face. I could stake a claim to it and change his spots to be more appealing. Amazing the hills the leftists choose to die on.

          • Still mainlining those lead paint chips, Liberal?

          • The AK Supreme Court would be right if it ruled for him, but since it ruled against him they are wrong…about a wire fence on his neighbors property, a short wire fence. Everyone is wrong but him, just ask him he will tell you. Hell you don’t even have to ask him, he will still tell you!

        • Well Four-Flusher, since you keep insisting that the Supreme Court has ruled that I don’t have “standing” then here is the pertinent quotation from page 6 of their decision: “…-nor do we decide the standing issue that the superior court found dispositive.”
          Is this plain enough for you? Heheh!

  • This article tells us the political leanings of Judge McDonald in Fairbanks but not for Judge Garton in Anchorage. Why? I am having a hard time understanding how the two non legislator plaintiffs in Anchorage have a public interest standing according to Judge Garton and yet Judge McDonald has predetermined that the Fairbanks non legislator plaintiff does not have that standing. Giessel & Edgmon claim that the Fairbanks plaintiff does not have any standing what so ever and yet they are not arguing against the Anchorage plaintiffs standing or Judge Garton’s ruling.

    • Judge McDonald is a Left-winger. Many of his rulings also reflect a tendency to buck common sense and to read something other than what the statutes really mean. I don’t know why he is so obstinate, other than to say he is not very good at his craft.

  • Have you or anyone you know ever checked how cases are assigned to Judges ? It seem that most of Trumps and Dunleavy cases get assigned to liberal Judges. How this works would be a great article.

    • Since both Trump and Dunleavy are to the right of Attila the Hun, it’s extremely difficult to find judges that aren’t more liberal.
      That was a joke, Randy.

  • Standing in Alaska to bring a judicial challenge has historically been set by the Alaska Supreme Court at low level.

    If the FAI case is dumped because the judge decides Al doesn’t have standing, then he should appeal. It’s likely that the FAI case and the ANC case can be consolidated and heard by the Alaska Supreme Court.

    On the merits, it is more likely than not that the statute that gives the Governor the apparent authority to designate where to convene if the Governor calls a special session will be held as a either a “political question” best left to the legislature (a long established constitutional doctrine), or as unenforceable according to the separation of powers constitutional doctrine, another long-established judicial doctrine.

    This issue is not really ideologically driven and the passionate statements about any of the judges are a tad misplaced. This will get worked out in due course.

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