Alaska AG recommends ways to enhance ethics issues

Keith Loria Aug. 8, 2009, 3:26pm

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Legal Newsline)- Hoping to enhance the integrity of the process, Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan issued an opinion Friday on issues concerning the Executive Branch Ethics Act.

In his official opinion, Sullivan concluded that public officials who are exonerated in ethics proceedings can be reimbursed for their legal expenses.

"Our research and analysis show that the structuring and implementation of ethics acts require a balance of very important and sometimes competing interests," Sullivan said. "Going forward, we believe our recommendations strike a balance between providing citizens the tools to hold public officials accountable and implementing an ethics process that does not discourage well-qualified Alaskans from serving in state government."

The Republican AG, who is a gubernatorial appointee, added that he hopes his recommendations on amendments to the ethics act will spark a "serious conversation" among Alaskans about how the law is working.

As written, the ethics act currently requires confidentiality for a complaint against a public official unless the official decides to make it public, or unless the attorney general or independent counsel for the personnel board initiates formal proceedings by issuing a public accusation.

Despite this provision, a confidential recommendation by the personnel board's independent investigator was leaked in a recent case, inappropriately publicizing a matter that has not been resolved and leading to erroneous news reports that there already had been a finding of guilt.

"The integrity of the process can be better protected if investigations remain confidential until attempts to resolve the issues through settlement or alternative corrective action are completed," Sullivan said. "We recommend changing the law so that a complainant does not receive a report finding probable cause of a violation if negotiations are ongoing between the public official and the state or independent counsel."

Sullivan's opinion outlines ways to guard against abuse of the act, including giving the personnel board the authority to order reimbursement of fees and costs from complainants who trigger investigations based on allegations that they know to be false.

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