Judge dismisses lawsuit over location of contentious July 2019 special session

Alaska Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, preside over a failed vote by the Legislature in July to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s line-item budget vetoes. On Monday, Fairbanks Superior Court Judge Michael MacDonald dismissed a lawsuit by a former state lawmaker over the special session held last July in Juneau. (Photo by Aidan Ling/KTOO)

A Fairbanks Superior Court judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit by a former state lawmaker over the special session held last July in Juneau.

Former state Rep. Al Vezey contended that the special session wasn’t valid because it didn’t meet in Wasilla, where Gov. Mike Dunleavy had called the Legislature. State law governing the location of special sessions says that when the governor calls a session, the governor can also choose its location.

Vezey sued House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham independent, and Senate President Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican.

The legislative leaders decided to hold the session in Juneau, citing the opinion of most lawmakers that it was their right to determine the location and venue best equipped to conduct the special session. A minority of lawmakers met in Wasilla.

Dunleavy later amended the session proclamation to change the location to Juneau.

Fairbanks Superior Court Judge Michael MacDonald dismissed Vezey’s lawsuit on four grounds.

He ruled that Edgmon and Giessel were immune from being served the lawsuit during the session under a provision of the Alaska Constitution. He also found that the complaint is moot, since the dispute over the session location was resolved and the session ended last summer.

MacDonald found that Vezey lacked legal standing, since he didn’t have an interest injured by the session location, and the lawmakers who went to Wasilla were more directly affected. And MacDonald also found that the lawsuit focused on a political question that — under the separation of powers — it wouldn’t be appropriate for the courts to decide.

An Anchorage Superior Court judge is still considering a separate lawsuit against Dunleavy over the session location. That lawsuit seeks to invalidate Dunleavy’s line-item vetoes. There weren’t enough lawmakers in Juneau to override the vetoes by the deadline to hold a vote, because of the number of legislators in Wasilla.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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