Attorneys challenging the Point Thomson settlement have requested more time to prepare a new brief on the case. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports the delay has rankled legislative leaders, who think it’s inappropriate for Gov. Bill Walker to remain a plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit against the state.
The Point Thomson lawsuit was originally filed in 2012 by Bill Walker, when he was still an attorney in private practice. He thought it was inappropriate for the State to make a deal with Exxon to develop the North Slope gas field without getting public input or seeking legislative approval.
But now that Walker has been elected governor and the lawsuit has been transferred to the firm Brena, Bell & Clarkson, the Alaska Supreme Court has asked for additional information on the proceedings.
The court set a deadline of January 30. But on Friday, attorney Robin Brena asked for an extension to mid-March. Brena says the firm needs extra time to review the case and see what legal options are available to them.
“The case was just recently transferred from Walker & Richards to Brena, Bell, & Clarkson,” says Brena. “So, the primary reason [for the request] was to give us an opportunity to get up to speed, and also give an opportunity for the counsel just to chat and and see if there’s any alternatives to litigation.”
The Point Thomson settlement was a major point of contention during the gubernatorial campaign.
Former Gov. Sean Parnell approved the original agreement, and it established a development plan for the reserves that would supply a proposed natural gas megaproject. Parnell, a Republican, criticized Walker for filing the public interest suit, arguing that it could jeopardize development of the field. Walker, who is not affiliated with a political party, called the settlement the “dirtiest backroom deal in state history.” But a week before the election, he said he would drop his lawsuit against the state if elected governor.
Walker’s name remains on the lawsuit, but he’s delegated his office’s authority to act on Point Thomson to Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott, who must consent to Walker’s participation on Point Thomson matter. In a written statement, Walker maintains that the deal was illegal, and that he is not in an “immediate hurry” to drop the case.
Attorney Robin Brena says the extension request is not a sign in either direction.
“I don’t think reading tea leaves beyond that is helpful at this point,” says Brena.
But House Speaker Mike Chenault thinks a potential extension of the case could be significant.
“I think they always say that — don’t read much into the tea leaves until the thing’s over with or until you’re in a position where you can’t affect the outcome of it,” says Chenault, a Nikiski Republican.
Chenault believes the lawsuit has already gone on too long.
“You’ve got the governor as the governor of the State of Alaska, and now you have the governor as a plaintiff against the State of Alaska,” says Chenault. “I think it just sends a bad message.”
On Thursday — the day before Brena, Bell & Clark filed for an extension — Chenault sent the governor a letter, in conjunction with other members of House leadership, requesting that the lawsuit be dropped because of the conflict. He says continuing the lawsuit and extending the briefing timeline “creates uncertainty” for industry. Chenault adds that with Walker’s executive authority, it would be more appropriate for the governor to pursue a legislative remedy instead of asking for resolution in the courts.
“He is the governor of the State of Alaska. He is the head man,” says Chenault. “If he’s got a problem, he should be able to work that out without being involved in lawsuits.”
Chenault says he has not received a response to his letter from the Governor’s Office. Walker, who is traveling to New York to meet with credit rating agencies, was unavailable for comment, as was the attorney handling the case for the state.
The court has yet to decide whether it will grant the extension.