Gov. Dunleavy defends state paying for settlement arising from his actions

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Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses the state of the coronavirus pandemic during a news conference at the Atwood Building in Anchorage on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. On Thursday, Dunleavy said it’s proper for the state government to pay to settle a lawsuit after a judge found state workers were entitled to damages for actions he took in his personal capacity. (Matthew Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said it’s proper for the state government to pay to settle a lawsuit after a judge found state workers were entitled to damages for actions he took in his personal capacity. 

Federal District Court Judge John Sedwick ruled in October that Dunleavy and his former chief of staff Tuckerman Babcock violated the First Amendment rights of two Alaska Psychiatric Institute doctors by requiring them to sign what they deemed a loyalty pledge. 

The Legislature must now decide whether to fund settlement payments of $495,000 in the state budget. 

Former Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth recently wrote an opinion article in the Anchorage Daily News saying that the settlement is both illegal and unethical. She said it violated the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act and a provision of the state constitution that says state money can only be spent for a public purpose.

Dunleavy responded on Thursday, saying the settlement is both legal and constitutional.

“We believe that if ordinary citizens that happen to want to run for office are then subject to certain court actions in their capacity of what they are — whether it’s governor, legislator, school board official — we think it makes it very difficult for folks to be able to execute their job the right way,” he said.

Lindemuth wrote that the Legislature should not fund both the settlement and the legal fees for defending Dunleavy and Babcock in their personal capacities. She wrote that if the Legislature does fund them, the issue could be taken to court. 

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