Fired attorney and blogger wins case against Dunleavy administration

A woman with a book open on her lap
Libby Bakalar. (Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

A federal district court judge ruled Thursday that Gov. Mike Dunleavy violated the First Amendment rights of an assistant attorney general whom he fired the day he was sworn into office.

The vindicated attorney is Libby Bakalar, of Juneau.

“The meat of the case was that I was terminated in violation of my free speech rights,” she said. “And that’s what the judge found — that I was fired improperly under the state and federal constitutions, and that constitutes unfair dealing on the part of the state. So I’m pretty happy with the ruling.”

Judge John Sedwick wrote that Bakalar was by all accounts a well-regarded attorney who won important cases for the state. But she drew attention for her off-duty writing, a liberal and often profane blog called “One Hot Mess.”

She, like 250 other at-will employees, was asked to resign or to pen what she describes as a loyalty pledge if she wanted to stay on with the Dunleavy administration. She resigned but wrote a letter explaining that she was forced into it.

She then filed a lawsuit against the state, Dunleavy and his first chief of staff, Tuckerman Babcock. Babcock claimed he fired Bakalar not because of her political views but because her resignation letter was unprofessional. The judge said it was clear that Bakalar’s political views and speech were factors in Babcock’s decision.

The judge ruled that Babcock and Dunleavy have qualified immunity and thus can’t be held personally liable.

The governor’s office referred questions about the decision to the Department of Law, which had no immediate statement.

Bakalar said she doesn’t know what kind of damages she’ll seek, but she doesn’t want her old job back. She’s now city attorney for Bethel.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.

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