Track Palin seeks to move case to Veterans Court, ban media coverage
The latest court battle for the Palin family is getting more attention than usual.
Track Palin, the son of former Alaska Governor and nominee for vice president, Sarah Palin, is facing charges for a run-in with his father that happened in December last year. The criminal complaint alleges Track had been drinking while on painkillers when he entered the family's home through a window and assaulted his father.
Track's attorney, Patrick Bergt, has asked that his case be moved from Palmer to Anchorage's Veterans Court, an alternative court program for veterans focused on rehabilitation, accountability and treatment, rather than jail time.
The move alone isn't controversial, but another action by Bergt is cause for concern.
Friday, Bergt filed a motion that seeks to prohibit news outlets from covering Track’s court proceedings.
The motion says, "Mr. Palin seeks to prohibit or limit the scope of the media's access to his Veterans Court proceedings in the hopes that his case does not become a distraction to other veterans in the program."
The motion was filed half an hour before the courts closed for the long weekend on Friday, and Bergt didn't provide a copy of the motion until less than an hour before the deadline to respond to it Tuesday.
Superior Court Judge Kari Kristiansen, who referred the motion to Veterans Court wrote, "This filing leaves the media, an interested party, little notice and opportunity to weigh in on their ability to access the courts."
KTVA, along with two other news outlets, is represented by attorney John McKay and will push for constitutional access to Track's court proceedings.
Tuesday, District Court Judge David Wallace denied all three applications for media coverage requesting to bring a camera into the courtroom, but reporters were allowed access to the hearing to listen.
McKay asked Wallace for additional time to submit a response to Bergt's motion, and Wallace gave news outlets through the end of Thursday to do so.
"By definition, we have a class of people, veterans, who have given service to their country to protect the rights to have open courts and free press, so I think the whole community can get behind the purpose of the Veterans Court and wish success for every human who walks through those doors. The only question, I think the judge is gonna have to look at is: is there a way that we can accommodate an interest for broader coverage of this, including camera coverage, that's consistent with what he sees as the role of therapeutic courts," said McKay.
A hearing in this therapeutic court is markedly different from other criminal court hearings. Participants stay for every hearing, not just their own, and Judge Wallace asks each one how their week has gone and offers advice or words of encouragement, and courtroom-wide applause follows each defendant's appearance.
According to the Alaska Courts website, in order to "opt in" to Anchorage's Veterans Court, "The veteran must agree to plead Guilty or No Contest to at least one charge and agree to receive one of two sentences: a regular court sentence if the participant does not complete his or her VA treatment plan or a lesser sentence if the participant completes his or her treatment plan."
Track told the judge he wants to participate in the program.
He later left the courtroom wearing a hat and sunglasses and did not speak to reporters.
Wallace was appointed by then Governor Sarah Palin in 2009, but McKay said he does not view that as a conflict of interest.
Questions or comments about this story? Email reporter Daniella Rivera.
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