ACLU suit: Dunleavy illegally fired 3 state employees
Three former state employees have sued Gov. Mike Dunleavy, alleging they were illegally fired in a wave of resignation requests shortly after he took office.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska filed the suit in state court on behalf of former Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar, as well as Drs. Anthony Blanford and John Bellville, formerly director of psychiatry and a staff psychiatrist at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.
The suit also names Dunleavy's chief of staff Tuckerman Babcock as a defendant. In November, Babcock sent a memo to nearly 800 exempt employees asking them to submit a resignation letter and reapply for their job.
Shortly after the requests emerged, Babcock told KTVA that they were "a natural thing" for the Dunleavy administration, adding that "no public servant is irreplaceable."
It’s unknown how many exempt employees were not retained. The administration has not provided a number and told media outlets they needed to put the question in a public record requests. Several media outlets, including KTVA, filed the request but have not received an answer.
Bakalar, who has a wide-ranging blog that takes an often self-deprecating look at family life but also periodically takes aim at President Donald Trump, sent a letter and was fired; Blanford and Bellville did not submit a letter and were fired.
As non-political state hires, all three say a refusal to pledge loyalty to Dunleavy is what got them fired.
Joshua Decker, the ACLU of Alaska's executive director, said Babcock’s directives to resign and reapply violated the plaintiffs' free-speech rights.
“For over 75 years, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that government cannot make average citizens express government mandated political beliefs,” Decker said. “Government works for us. When one goes to serve the public and work for the government, we don’t check our free-speech rights at the door.”
Bakalar, Blanford and Bellville are all seeking their jobs back.
Bakalar and Bellville attended a morning news conference with the ACLU. Neither took questions but provided statements.
“When I received the request for resignation, I actually put it in the trash because I thought it was a mistake. I’m a doctor not a politician,” Bellville said. “My job was not political. It was about caring for patients. As a doctor, I can’t ethically put Tuckerman Babcock’s political views ahead of my patients."
Bakalar said she had always adhered to her ethical duties with the Department of Law.
“As state employees, and especially as attorneys, our ethical duty is first and foremost to the constitution, not to a political agenda, but the constitution protects us as well and that is why I am bringing this litigation," she said. “When the government silences its own employees in violation of the Constitution, the government must be held accountable; otherwise we lose our most cherished freedom as Americans: the right to think and speak for ourselves.”
Two years ago, Bakalar’s blog called “One Hot Mess Alaska,” received an outside review by the Department of Law by Anchorage attorney William Evans, who was asked to determine whether Bakalar committed any misconduct “in connection with her blog.”
Evans wrote, in part: "Ms. Bakalar’s activity with respect to her blog, “One Hot Mess Alaska,” is an activity that takes place predominantly on Ms. Bakalar’s own time and would appear to be protected activity.”
Cori Mills, a spokeswoman for the Department of Law, said in an emailed statement the state has no comment.
"It is the State’s policy not to comment on pending litigation, and this case involves personnel matters, which are confidential," Mills said. "The State of Alaska will review the complaint and file its response with the court, at which time we can provide a copy of the court filing."
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