Alaska pays $350,000 to settle last wrongful-firing lawsuit from loyalty-pledge scheme

The case by former state attorney Elizabeth Bakalar against Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his former chief of staff will not go to a trial over damages

By: - August 2, 2023 4:00 am
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is seen in a screenshot of a news conference on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, in Anchorage. Dunleavy said that if re-elected, he will seek to raise the prison sentence for dealing illegal drugs that result in a death. (Screenshot)

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is seen in a screenshot of a news conference on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, in Anchorage. (Screenshot)

The state of Alaska has paid $350,000 to settle a four-year-old lawsuit that found Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his former chief of staff personally liable for illegally firing a state attorney.

The settlement with Elizabeth Bakalar ends a series of state and federal lawsuits triggered when Dunleavy and former chief of staff Tuckerman Babcock — now a member of the University of Alaska Board of Regentsasked state employees to submit resignation letters during the transition from the administration of Gov. Bill Walker.

In 2021, a federal judge concluded that the process was “sufficiently analogous as to its purpose and effect to be considered an unconstitutional patronage practice” and issued an order prohibiting the state from repeating it in the future.

Though U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick found the actions of Dunleavy and Babcock so egregious that they should be held personally liable, the state of Alaska has now paid almost $1 million in settlements on their behalf

That figure does not include the cost of defending the two men and the state in court.

“Although we felt that the district court’s analysis on the underlying issue was incorrect and were prepared to appeal, we think it is better to get this case behind us and move forward,” said Attorney General Treg Taylor in an emailed statement. “This was a reasonable settlement to avoid further long, drawn out and expensive litigation. Our resources will be better spent in other areas.”

The state previously paid $495,000 to two Alaska Psychiatric Institute doctors in 2022. Another $75,000 was paid in 2021 to settle a suit filed in state court by a public advocate.

The new settlement was not formally disclosed before Tuesday, when it appeared in federal court filings, but Bakalar previewed it in a mid-July blog post

The post said more than half of the proceeds will go toward taxes and attorney fees, with the remainder split between Bakalar and her ex-husband.

“In the end I will net approximately $75,000. I plan to use this money to re-roof my 1963 house that has no useful life left in the roof, paint the outside of the house, and do some overdue renovations. I also just paid off the remainder of my car loan today,” she wrote.

Bakalar’s comments appeared on the same blog that formed much of the basis for her firing. The state argued in filings with the District Court that her critical comments regarding Dunleavy and former President Donald Trump cast doubt on her ability to work as a neutral attorney for the Alaska Division of Elections. 

Sedwick partially disagreed with that conclusion and ruled in her favor, setting the stage for a repeatedly delayed trial over damages that was set to go to court later this year.

Rather than risk a decision that could have overturned Sedwick’s initial decision, Bakalar elected to settle, she said by phone on Tuesday.

“I may have had a bigger award, a smaller award; it doesn’t matter,” Bakalar said. “The thing I cared most about was preserving that order. If there’s a federal court order in place, then at least under the facts of my case, the government shouldn’t be conducting itself in this way.”

Bakalar was represented by Juneau attorney Mark Choate after ACLU attorneys originally brought the lawsuit; the state hired Brewster Jamieson of Lane Powell, a private firm, on defense. Jamieson deferred comment to the Department of Law.

Choate said that while he would have “loved to have taken this to trial,” there was a settlement his client wanted to accomplish, and he did that. He said the settlement funds have already been received.

Looking forward, Bakalar said she hopes the state’s public attorneys unionize in order to further deter similar actions.

“I think a union of public attorneys … would really help to insulate these career lawyers from political retribution and preserve their allegiance to the Constitution and their clients,” she said.

Editor’s note: Elizabeth Bakalar’s first name was not included in the main body of the original version of the article.


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James Brooks
James Brooks

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he is married to Caitlyn Ellis, owns a house in Juneau and has a small sled dog named Barley. He can be contacted at [email protected].