Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Fairbanks Borough Seeks to Withdraw From Redistricting Lawsuit
The Fairbanks North Star Borough has filed to end its formal participation in a lawsuit over the state redistricting plan.
UPDATED at 3:30 p.m.
FAIRBANKS - The Fairbanks North Star Borough has filed to end its formal participation in a lawsuit over the state redistricting plan.
The assembly’s presiding officer, Assemblyman Joe Blanchard, said the decision, made last week in a meeting closed to the public, was driven by the growing costs of the lawsuit.
“When the borough originally got into the case, we were told that expenses would be within the current budget,” he said. “(During executive session) we were told we were going to go beyond that and it was not known how far beyond.”
Blanchard said the borough will continue to offer non-financial support for the remaining plaintiffs in the redistricting suit.
Mike Walleri, an attorney representing an Ester resident — George Riley — who also is challenging the plan, said the timing of the borough’s action is “odd.” The borough’s action comes just days before John Davies and Guy Sattley join the assembly as new members, he noted. Davies and Sattley said during the recent election campaign that they support the lawsuit.
In June, the assembly approved a resolution, 8-1, to file an “appropriate action” in court opposing the redistricting plan. The borough attorney then filed suit.
A motion filed by the borough in the Alaska Superior Court today requests that the court dismiss the borough’s complaint and remove it as a primary plaintiff from the suit. It asks that the borough be allowed to remain involved as an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court.”
The Borough Assembly met in executive session Thursday to discuss the status of the case and give direction to the borough attorney.
“After careful consideration, the FNSB plaintiffs have determined that the best use of their resources in this litigation is more appropriately as amicus curiae and not as primary litigants in the case,” the filing states.
The borough’s action came on the same day Alaska Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy handed a partial win to George Riley, the Ester resident who had also filed suit against the redistricting plan. McConahy agreed that House District 38, which stretches from Ester to the Bering Sea, violates the Alaska Constitution.
Walleri, Riley’s attorney, said they plan to file a formal objection to the borough’s action to remove itself from the case.
“It seems kind of odd at a time when you’re prevailing on the issue that the borough would pull out of the case,” he said.
Walleri noted that Davies and Sattley, who have publicly supported the lawsuit, will be sworn in Thursday.
“One of the biggest issues really has to do with the timing of all of this and that the two new elected members of the assembly will not have the opportunity to be a part of it,” he said. “The decision is being made and being rushed through before these members take their position.”
The borough’s filing Tuesday said the local government still opposes the redistricting plan.
“While the FNSB plaintiffs do not support the Alaska Redistricting Board’s Proclamation Plan and firmly believe that legal challenges exist to the plan, it has determined that it can appropriately assert those challenges as an amicus curiae,” according to the borough’s filing.
The borough’s legal department has not yet responded to phone calls.
Judge McConahy granted a similar motion to Petersburg today, which requested to leave the lawsuit because of financial claims. Petersburg had filed a lawsuit against the redistricting board’s plan and was consolidated with the two suits filed by Riley and the borough in July.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544.