Former APD Lt.'s 2015 lawsuit against MOA sees 1st federal court hearing
A federal court case fueled by Anchorage taxpayer dollars might not see trial by the end of the year.
Wednesday, a 2015 lawsuit filed against the Municipality of Anchorage by a former longtime Anchorage Police Lieutenant who says he was wrongfully terminated got its first hearing in front of a judge since it was removed to federal court.
The lawsuit, initially filed in state court, claims Lt. Anthony Henry, with more than 23 years on the force, was retaliated against and ultimately dismissed after he tried to protect a fellow officer who had been diagnosed with a sensitive medical condition. He's suing the MOA and APD for wrongful termination.
The muni has countered his claims through court documents saying Henry was let go because he compromised an investigation into the Alaska Army National Guard. The muni says he leaked the names of confidential informants and lied to an independent investigator digging into APD's role in a possible cover-up of a drug-dealing and sexual assault scandal in the Guard.
The case was removed to Federal Court in 2016, and, after a stay-- which impacted progress-- finally got its first hearing in front of Senior United States District Judge Ralph Beistline Wednesday, who said he has no idea how he intends to rule in the case.
An attorney representing the MOA argued municipal code on termination procedures applies to Henry's dismissal and was followed when the muni fired him.
Henry's attorneys point out that code conflicts with APD's own employee termination policy, arguing the MOA can't pick and choose which one it wants to apply to the case at any given time.
Judge Beistline said Wednesday's hearing left him with more questions and he intends to review each side's arguments. He also said he wants to get the case tried in 2018, as do attorneys on both sides, but he isn't certain that will happen.
Blair Christensen, an assistant municipal attorney working on the case, says she estimates the muni has already spent more than $1 million fighting the lawsuit thus far.
"It's our perspective that a lot of the expenses in the Henry litigation is because the plaintiffs have been very aggressive in the litigation," said Christensen.
She says the municipality has a responsibility to constantly evaluate whether a case should be settled for the benefit of the taxpayers, but that "it just hasn't been an option in this case yet".
Another recent lawsuit against the MOA that also involved APD didn't end in its favor. Two former APD officers won millions of dollars in combined settlements and attorney's fees after successfully suing over racial discrimination.
In 2017, a judge in the case said the way the MOA fought the almost seven-year legal battle involved "hide-the-ball" litigation tactics and "dirty tricks," likening the case to the Watergate scandal and "trench warfare used by combatants on the Western front in WWI".
An attorney representing Henry agreed with the characterization of the MOA's litigation style, saying she's filed more motions to compel in this case than ever before in her career.
Christensen disagreed, saying the two lawsuits are vastly different, and in the previous case, "the muni had a valid basis for thinking we had a legally strong position".
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