Alaska SC rules for fired state trooper

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 11, 2011, 12:21pm


JUNEAU, Alaska (Legal Newsline) - The Alaska Supreme Court last month upheld an arbitrator's decision to reinstate a state trooper who was terminated partly for dishonesty.

The Public Safety Employees Association filed a grievance on behalf of the discharged trooper and then invoked arbitration.

The arbitrator reinstated the trooper, ruling that the state did not have "just cause" to terminate. The superior court upheld the arbitrator's decision.

The state appealed, arguing that the arbitrator committed gross error and that the reinstatement of the trooper is unenforceable as a violation of public policy.

The state's high court, in its July 29 opinion, held that the arbitrator's award is not unenforceable as a violation of public policy.

There is no explicit, well-defined and dominant public policy in Alaska against the reinstatement of a law enforcement officer who has engaged in relatively minor dishonesty, the Court explained.

It also found that the award was not grossly erroneous.

The Court affirmed the superior court's decision and upheld the arbitrator's decision. Chief Justice Walter L. Carpeneti authored the opinion.

Carpeneti emphasized in the 31-page ruling that the Court is not excusing or minimizing even minor acts of dishonesty by law enforcement officers and other employees in positions of public trust.

"Lying -- even temporarily -- to cover up one's misbehavior should be recognized as conduct unworthy of an Alaska state trooper," the chief justice wrote.

However, the Court said it is bound by the gross error standard.

And it was not gross error for the arbitrator to have taken a different approach from the one it may have taken, the Court said.

"A court may not vacate an arbitrator's interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement in favor of its own merely because it finds its own to be better reasoned," the Court wrote.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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