A superior court judge has ruled a campaign to remove Gov. Mike Dunleavy from office has sufficient legal grounds to move forward.

Judge Eric Aarseth on Friday issued his decision after hearing oral arguments at the Boney Courthouse in Anchorage.

The Department of Law said it intends to file an appeal with the Supreme Court, saying case law cited in Friday’s arguments do not speak squarely to state recall statutes.

“One of the things about this recall law is it hasn’t been interpreted by the Supreme Court,” said Assistant State Attorney Margaret Paton-Walsh. “The cases that the court described to Meiners and von Stauffenberg both interpreting the municipal statues not the state level statutes so we don’t have controlling supreme court precedent interpreting the state statutes and that's something that we should have so I think we're going to end up in the supreme court very soon.”

On Nov. 4, the Division of Elections denied the Recall Dunleavy's application for a petition, based on Attorney General Kevin Clarkson’s legal opinion challenging the grounds.

In those grounds, the campaign alleges Dunleavy:

  • Violated Alaska law when he originally refused to appoint a judge to the Palmer Superior Court within 45 days of receiving nominations;
  • Violated state law and the constitution and misused state funds by unlawfully and without proper disclosure, authorizing using state funds for partisan purposes;
  • Ignored separation of powers using line-item veto to attack the judiciary and keep the Legislature from upholding its constitutional health, education and welfare duties;
  • Acted incompetently by mistakenly vetoing $18 million more than he told the Legislature. Uncorrected, the state could have lost $40 million in federal Medicaid funds.

Clarkson said the grounds were neither “factually nor legally sufficient and therefore not substantially in the form required by [state law].”

But, in siding with the campaign, Aarseth ordered petition books to be printed by Feb. 10 unless the Supreme Court rules otherwise.

The books will have the language submitted by the campaign except a section struck by Aarseth, who said the veto citing did not keep the Legislature from upholding its constitutional duty.

“It’s pretty clear there was violations of the constitution, there was clear neglect of duties and unfitness, which are the three categories that the governor is being alleged of engaging in extra constitutional activity and neglecting his duties,” said Joelle Hall of the Recall Dunleavy campaign.

Later Friday night, Dunleavy said it’s business as usual and that he’s not nervous from Aarseth’s ruling.

“I have done nothing wrong to be nervous about other than implement my agenda and I'll continue to do that,” he said. “Again we'll make the case to the people of Alaska, and we're going to make a case to the next level of the courts.”

Earnest recall efforts kicked off Aug. 1 with statewide signature gathering beginning early that morning in Juneau outside a downtown gift shop.

The group needed to collect 28,501 valid registered voter signatures. One month later, more than 49,000 were submitted to the Alaska Division of Elections.

The Division of Elections said there were “sufficient qualifying signatures and the technical requirements of the recall statutes were met.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there have been several attempts to recall governors in the U.S., but only three advanced to a recall election.

In 1921, Gov. Lynn J. Frazier of North Dakota, a Republican, became the first governor to be recalled along with his attorney general and agriculture commissioner. 

In 2003, California voters recalled Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, who was replaced by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Seven years ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, survived voters’ efforts to unseat him.

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