A proposed state regulation would allow the Department of Law to defend the governor, lieutenant governor and the attorney general against ethics complaints.

Last week the Law Department issued the proposal and established a public comment period that expires next month. The attorney general’s office said the proposal represents “streamlining” the complaint process; critics, however, said if adopted, the regulation represents a burden on state resources.

Under the regulation, the attorney general must issue a written declaration that explains defending the governor or lieutenant governor benefits the state. Likewise, for an attorney general to receive such legal help, the governor must write receiving state help is in the public interest.

Complaints are not public, so it’s unknown whether any current complaints are driving the proposed change.

In an emailed explanation, Senior Assistant Attorney General Cori Mills said the proposed regulation is the product of a months-long procedural review addressing ethics complaints.

She said this step is designed to “help simplify the complaint process.”

“The proposed regulation change would simply allow the DOL to take on this function in regards to ethics complaints,” Mills wrote. “In addition to streamlining the ethics complaint process, this proposed change would also help to mitigate the risk that the ethics complaint process is used to harass or becomes predatory.”

Jahna Lindemuth, a former attorney general under Gov. Bill Walker, disagrees. She called the proposed regulation “a bad idea and a misuse of state resources.”

“The attorney general is the attorney for the entire state,” said Lindemuth, who now works in private practice and is handling cases against Dunleavy. “Occasionally the governor is the client representative for the people, but when a complaint is made against the governor or lieutenant governor for self-dealing or other types of acts that would be in violation of the ethics act, those are personal in nature and it would be inappropriate for the attorney general to be defending those.”

Lindemuth said if there is a legitimate complaint against governors for misusing state resources, then using the Department of Law could be construed as “doubling down” on the misuse of state resources.

Lindemuth said she never considered this regulation as attorney general.

Another former attorney general Michael Geraghty called this type of change “benign.”

“I don’t know what prompted it,” said Geraghty who served under former Gov. Sean Parnell. “Having read it, it doesn’t offend me or doesn’t make me think, 'Gee something’s going on.' I don’t get that reaction to it.”

The department is taking public comment on the proposal through Nov. 4.

Afterward, Mills said the department will review the comments, but there is not established timetable for a final decision.

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