Alaska governor’s recall effort on hold as judge sides with state on timeline

Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh argues in Superior Court on Thursday, as Judge Eric Aarseth (right) and attorneys for Stand Tall with Mike look on. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media photo)

Superior Court proceedings over the state’s denial of an application to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy will follow a timeline proposed by state attorneys and not the recall’s supporters, who had proposed an expedited schedule.

That’s after Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth ruled in the state’s favor Thursday morning in Anchorage, setting oral arguments in the case for Jan. 10. Aarseth also approved as a party to the case a group called Stand Tall with Mike, which has hired lawyers to oppose the recall effort in court.

Recall Dunleavy says it has gathered more than 40,000 signatures from Alaskans supporting the recall, and to get the recall on a ballot, the group would have to go through another round of signature gathering.

But the state Division of Elections denied the group’s application, based on an opinion by Dunleavy’s own attorney general. The recall supporters sued and Thursday’s scheduling hearing was set to determine how fast the lawsuit should proceed.

[Related: Legal expert: Previous Alaska Supreme Court decisions favor Recall Dunleavy argument]

Lawyers for all three parties now involved in the case say they expect it to eventually end up before the state Supreme Court, due to the lack of legal precedent on recalling governors in Alaska.

And since that will likely add more time before a final decision, Recall Dunleavy lawyer Susan Orlansky told Judge Aarseth that the longer the case is making its way through Superior Court, the longer the state will be denying Alaskans their right to a recall election.

“Every day that the government wrongly stands in the way of the people getting to a recall election, and living with a governor that they believe is legally subject to recall, is prejudicial,” Orlansky said. “People who don’t want a recall should probably have the certainty, too.”

Read our complete coverage of the Dunleavy recall effort

But the lawyers opposing the recall in court Thursday both said they did not want to see a “rush to judgement.”

The state’s larger argument is that the recall application is politically motivated and does not fit the grounds for recall under Alaska law. State attorney Margaret Paton-Walsh also told Judge Aarseth that, unlike lawsuits over elections that have immovable deadlines, the recall supporters had not proven in their court filings that expediting the case was necessary.

“It essentially indicates that they want expedited consideration because they would like this to be done quickly, but that’s true for almost every litigant. Every plaintiff who files a lawsuit hopes that they will win a victory quickly,” Paton-Walsh said.

There are reasons to proceed cautiously, Paton-Walsh said. Namely, there are no state Supreme Court opinions addressing the standard for statewide recall, she said.

“I mean, the plaintiffs talk about the 40,000-odd, 45,000, voters who signed the recall petition, but there are 140,000 voters who voted for Gov. Dunleavy and 700,000-plus people who live in the state of Alaska, and this case is extremely important for all of them,” Paton-Walsh said.

Brewster Jamieson, a lawyer for Stand Tall with Mike, agreed with the state’s proposed timeline — which Judge Aarseth ultimately approved — but Jamieson noted that the group he represents might have differing interests and are raising differing legal issues from the state.

Aarseth’s decision means the case will be heard 30 days later than what the Recall Dunleavy lawyers had proposed. The first batch of motions in the case are due by Nov. 29.