In letter to lawyers, Alaska Supreme Court clerk pushes back against Dunleavy bias complaints

Gov. Mike Dunleavy talks to reporters at a press conference in the Capitol on Wednesday. He said that public statements by Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger led members of the group fighting Dunleavy’s recall, Stand Tall with Mike, to believe it would be difficult for Bolger to hear the case. (Skip Gray/KTOO)

The clerk for the Alaska Supreme Court responded on Wednesday to questions about Chief Justice Joel Bolger’s ability to be impartial over the proposed recall of Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Clerk of the court Meredith Montgomery wrote in a letter to lawyers in the case that Bolger does not have any personal bias concerning Dunleavy or other parties in the recall lawsuit.

Stand Tall with Mike, the group opposing the recall, questioned Bolger’s impartiality when it announced on Tuesday that it was dropping its appeal seeking to block the recall.

Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger waits outside the House Chambers in Juneau before delivering the annual State of the Judiciary Address to the Alaska Legislature on Feb. 20, 2019.
Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger outside the House chambers in Juneau on Feb. 20, 2019. (Skip Gray/KTOO)

Montgomery offered an explanation as to why Bolger made public statements related to two of the four listed grounds for recall. She wrote that Bolger made those statements because he serves as the administrative head of the court system and chairman ex-officio of the Alaska Judicial Council.

“Chief Justice Bolger does not have any personal bias or prejudice concerning the parties of attorneys involved in this case, or personal knowledge of any disputed evidentiary facts, and he knows of no other reason why he cannot render a fair and impartial decision in this matter,” Montgomery wrote.

One of the listed grounds for recall is that Dunleavy failed to appoint a Palmer Superior Court judge within the legally required 45 days. This prompted Bolger to issue a statement saying Dunleavy must appoint someone nominated by the Judicial Council to fill the seat.

Another of the grounds for recall alleges that Dunleavy violated the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches by saying that he was vetoing $334,700 of court funding because of court rulings upholding Medicaid funding of abortions. The court system issued a statement after the veto, saying that the courts would “continue to render independent court decisions based on the rule of law, without regard to the politics of the day.”

In a press conference on Wednesday, Dunleavy said that it was those public statements that led Stand Tall with Mike members to believe it would be difficult for Bolger to hear the case.

“It raises questions,” Dunleavy said. “I mean, I’m not prepared to say that the Supreme Court justice is bound and determined to stick it to myself. I’m not prepared to say that. I don’t have evidence of that.”

Dunleavy said Stand Tall with Mike was concerned about how the court would rule.

“And I want to believe that the courts can be fair and individuals on the courts can be fair,” he said. “We will find out. But we are preparing that there’s already an inevitable decision that’s going to be made, is the feeling.”

Stand Tall with Mike didn’t seek to disqualify Bolger. Montgomery wrote that any party can ask for the justice to be to disqualified by Feb. 26. Failure to do this would waive the potential disqualification.

The state Division of Elections continues to appeal the case.