OPINION: Rush to judgment on recall results in ridiculousness

  • Alaska Supreme Court Justice Joel Bolger stands for recognition during a State of the Judiciary address to the Alaska Legislature on Feb. 10, 2016, in Juneau. After initially refusing to, Bolger has recused himself from the case to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy. (Photo/File/AP)

Perhaps the most monumental case to ever reach the Alaska Supreme Court is turning into a monumental you-know-what show.

The decision on whether any or all of the allegations against Gov. Mike Dunleavy are sufficient to allow the first recall of a statewide official will establish a consequential precedent, but the case so far has been marred by rushed rulings and subsequent reversals driven by an artificial political timeline rather than the carefully measured judicial review it demands.

To be sure, there are statutory deadlines that must be met as far as procedures for certifying signatures or setting an election; the judicial branch is bound by no such constraints, however, and yet its officers appear determined to squeeze this process into a timeframe that would fit into an episode of Judge Judy as they bend over backward to accommodate the political wishes of the recall proponents who believe they should be able to choose the timing of an election.

Starting with Superior Court Justice Eric Aarseth’s decision to rule from the bench after oral argument on Jan. 10 — which came as a surprise to both sides — this case has devolved into a whipsaw of hasty actions that frankly should embarrass the system.

Let’s review:

After taking a 10-minute recess, Aarseth issued a 20-minute decision allowing all but one allegation to stand.

He then told the Dunleavy defense he was not inclined to grant a stay of signature gathering.

Stand Tall With Mike attorney Brewster Jamison asked if he should make his stay request right then to have it on the record, but Aarseth told him to put it in writing.

After the stay request was submitted, a surprise decision came out from Aarseth’s office granting it. But it turns out that was a mistake from literally phoning in his ruling, and Aarseth withdrew the order the next day much to the joy of the recall proponents. (one can only wonder if Aarseth would consider his mistake to rise to incompetence as he did for Dunleavy’s Medicaid veto he allowed to stand in the recall petition)

But then Aarseth heard arguments for the stay and reinstated his mistaken ruling.

Subsequently the Supreme Court reversed Aarseth to allow signature gathering, and went on to tell the parties it could also rule from the bench after it hears arguments on March 25.

Stand Tall With Mike took both the reversal of the stay and the expressed intent for a quick decision as indicative the recall would go forward no matter what, and promptly withdrew from the case.

But we’re not done with the twists and turns.

On their way to the door, Dunleavy’s defenders also questioned Chief Justice Joel Bolger’s impartiality in the case based on his involvement and public statements over allegations included in the recall petition.

The Supreme Court quickly issued a statement saying Bolger had no conflicts requiring recusal while inviting either side to ask for it if they chose.

Then Bolger apparently refreshed his memory of his own comments regarding aspects of the case and recused himself anyway, making both STWM’s decision to abruptly withdraw and the Court’s initial statement of nothing-to-see-here look ill-considered in hindsight.

The devolution of this case into farce is entirely the fault of the judges who have presided over it so far.

The recall proponents are not entitled to expedited review, nor are they entitled to an election at the time of their choosing, yet the judicial branch has apparently decided they are and now has egg covering its face as a result.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
03/04/2020 - 9:22am