Dunleavy recall opponents seek to drop out of court fight

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The group opposing an effort to recall Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Tuesday it will drop its court fight and instead gear up for a possible recall election.

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Stand Tall With Mike, in a statement, said it told its attorneys to withdraw its appeal before the state Supreme Court, saying recent court actions indicate "further participation in the legal process would not be a productive use of its resources."

“Stand Tall With Mike will place its trust in the voters, not unelected judges, to protect the integrity of our elections, now and into the future,” the group said. It filed a motion to dismiss its appeal Tuesday.

Judges, while appointed from nominees put forth by a judicial council, face periodic retention votes from Alaska voters.

The state Supreme Court last week allowed for pro-recall group Recall Dunleavy to begin a new signature-gathering phase while the case is on appeal. The state, on behalf of the Division of Elections, had joined with Stand Tall With Mike in appealing a lower court ruling that found the recall should be allowed to proceed.

The state's appeal will continue, Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills said by email. The state maintains an opinion by Attorney General Kevin Clarkson and a decision by the Division of Elections based on that analysis were correct and that the issues need to be addressed by the state Supreme Court, Mills said.

Anger over budget cuts Dunleavy proposed last year helped fuel the recall effort, which gathered more signatures than required as part of an application that was rejected by the division.

Division director Gail Fenumiai has said her decision to deny the application was based on a legal review from Clarkson that concluded the stated grounds for recall were “factually and legally deficient.” Clarkson is a Dunleavy appointee who was confirmed by lawmakers.

Dunleavy, a Republican who took office in late 2018, has called it a political recall. He told Alaska Public Media's “Talk of Alaska” Tuesday that recall opponents hoped the court would look at whether various standards had been breached.

“It doesn’t appear that that’s going to happen and so we have to gear up for a campaign so that the people of Alaska can weigh in and decide whether they believe ... this governor should stay in office,” he said.

Grounds for recall in Alaska are lack of fitness, incompetence, neglect of duties or corruption.

Recall Dunleavy, among its claims, said the governor violated the law by not appointing a judge within a required time frame, misused state funds for partisan online ads and mailers, and improperly used his veto authority to “attack the judiciary."

The recall group must gather 71,252 signatures in seeking to force a recall election.

Stand Tall With Mike called Chief Justice Joel Bolger a “material witness” in the case and suggested concerns with him hearing the matter. Bolger met with Dunleavy last year after the governor refused to make a judicial appointment. Dunleavy has said the meeting provided "important clarification" on the nominations process that he was seeking when he delayed the appointment.

Mara Rabinowitz, with the state court system, said there is a process for asking a judge or justice to recuse himself or herself from a case. Stand Tall With Mike, before withdrawing its appeal, “did not file a motion asking the chief justice to recuse himself from participating in the appeal which is the proper way to raise that issue,” she said by email.

Brewster Jamieson, an attorney for Stand Tall With Mike, in a statement said the group considers the recall “seriously flawed.”

“If it is allowed to go forward, this means that Alaska has a purely political recall system, which is contrary to the Alaska constitution,” he said. “Those issues are still before the court, but in the meantime, with signature gathering underway, my client determined that it would no longer devote resources to legal proceedings.”