Anchorage, Alaska (KINY) - The Alaska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a pair of lawsuits against Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy and his chief of staff, Tuckerman Babcock.
The suits outline what the group is calling "constitutional violations" related to resignation requests issued by the administration.
Former assistant attorney general Elizabeth Bakalar is the plaintiff in one of the suits, with a second suit filed jointly by former Alaska Psychiatric Institute doctors Anthony Blanford and John Bellville.
The filing of the lawsuits was announced by the ACLU Thursday in Anchorage.
“There is a misperception that because Alaska is an ‘at will’ state and these are ‘exempt’ or partially ‘exempt’ positions that the government can fire our clients for any reason,” said ACLU of Alaska Legal Director Stephen Koteff. He continued, “In fact, no employee can be fired or retaliated against for an illegal reason and no one loses their constitutional rights just by working in Alaska or serving the public. It’s been more than seventy-five years since the United States Supreme Court said the government can’t force a person to say the ‘Pledge of Allegiance,’ and this is no different.”
“This kind of political retaliation against non-political state workers is an attack on the very foundations of free speech and good government,” said ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Joshua A. Decker. He continued, “Party bosses making political allegiance a de facto requirement for government service is the of root of a corrupt spoils system America has worked to eradicate for over a century. We can’t let Mr. Babcock and Gov. Dunleavy bring it back. Alaskans don’t want their doctor, their pharmacist, or their veteran’s affairs worker putting a partisan agenda ahead of them.”
Before he was sworn in, Dunleavy’s transition team sent an email to every at-will state employee asking them to submit letters of resignation – and to reapply for their jobs if they chose to.
While incoming administrations often make leadership changes, Dunleavy’s team said it had broadened the scope of employees asked to take the step.
Dunleavy’s transition chair and current chief of staff Tuckerman Babcock said that given the change in leadership, it was appropriate to ask employees if they “want to work for the Dunleavy administration.”
According to the complaint in the Bakalar case, the ACLU alleges that her First Amendment right to freedom of speech was violated because she was fired for her political beliefs – and maintaining a lifestyle and politically-tinged blog – while employed as an attorney in the Alaska Department of Law. In her case the ACLU alleges Dunleavy and Babcock “terminated [her] employment because they were unhappy with the political views expressed in [her] blog postings.”
An investigation by the Department of Law cleared Bakalar of any ethics violations in connection to the blogging. Bakalar also never took in any advertising dollars for her blog and operated it as what she calls a “hobby.”
“Defendants Michael J. Dunleavy and Tuckerman Babcock violated Ms. Bakalar’s rights to free speech when they fired her from her job as an assistant attorney general for the State of Alaska, a position which she held for over twelve years and for which she was repeatedly recognized for professional excellence,” the complaint states.
Her lawsuit also alleges that another Department of Law attorney, Ruth Botstein, was fired for her political beliefs.
In the joint complaint filed on behalf of Bellville and Blanford, the ACLU alleges that the pair were terminated after both refused to submit resignation letters – and Blanford wrote a letter to the editor of the Anchorage Daily News that was highly critical of the request.
“Dr. Blanford explained in his letter that the State of Alaska had hired him for his ‘expertise,’ and not his ‘political allegiance,’” the complaint states. “He noted too that his ‘moral allegiance’ was ‘to the mentally ill and the staff who care for them,’ and that the ‘symbolic gesture of deference’ demanded by the Babcock memorandum didn’t ‘settle well’ with him.”
The doctors also allege that they were hired with the understanding that they were subject to removal only by the Commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services.