Articles Posted in Election Law

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This appeal involved an attorney’s fees dispute following a superior court decision upholding Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell’s certification of the “Bristol Bay Forever” ballot initiative. The initiative was approved to be placed on the November 2014 ballot. It required additional legislative approval for “a large-scale metallic sulfide mining operation located within the watershed of the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve.” Richard Hughes, Alaska Miners Association, and Council of Alaska Producers (Hughes plaintiffs) challenged the certification of the initiative. It was undisputed that this initiative, if passed, would impact the Pebble Project, a potential large-scale mining project in the Bristol Bay region. The initiative’s sponsors, John Holman, Mark Niver, and Christina Salmon (Holman intervenors), intervened on Alaska's side, and the State and intervenors moved for summary judgment to establish the legality of the initiative. The superior court granted the State’s and the Holman intervenors’ motions for summary judgment. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed on the merits. The Holman intervenors then moved for full reasonable attorney’s fees as constitutional claimants under AS 09.60.010. The Hughes plaintiffs opposed, arguing that they themselves were constitutional claimants and that the Holman intervenors were not constitutional claimants because they were intervenor-defendants. The superior court determined that the Holman intervenors were constitutional claimants. It also found that because Pebble Limited Partnership (Pebble) financed at least part of the litigation for the Hughes plaintiffs, Pebble was the real party in interest; the court further found that Pebble did not qualify as a constitutional claimant because it had sufficient economic incentive to bring the action. The court therefore awarded the Holman intervenors full reasonable attorney’s fees. The Hughes plaintiffs appealed. The Supreme Court held that because this case was fundamentally about constitutional limits on the ballot-initiative process and not whether the Pebble Project should go forward, the Hughes plaintiffs did not have sufficient economic incentive to remove them from constitutional-claimant status, and therefore reversed the award of attorney’s fees. View "Alaska Miners Association v. Holman" on Justia Law

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A self-employed real estate broker, James Studley, ran as a candidate for local elective office. The broker sought a blanket exemption from Alaska’s financial disclosure requirements to avoid reporting his clients’ identities and the income earned from them. The Alaska Public Offices Commission denied the broker’s request and assessed a $175 civil penalty for his failure to comply with the candidate reporting requirements. On appeal the superior court upheld the Commission’s ruling. The broker appealed, contending the disclosure requirements violated his duty to maintain client confidentiality, infringe his clients’ privacy rights under the Alaska Constitution, and impair several personal constitutional rights. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision upholding the Commission’s ruling. View "Studley v. Alaska Public Offices Comm'n" on Justia Law

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A group of Lake and Peninsula Borough voters filed suit against two local elected officials, alleging various violations of state and local conflict of interest laws and the common law conflict of interest doctrine. The officials moved for summary judgment on the ground that the voters failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The superior court granted the motion and stayed the proceedings so that the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) could review several of the voters’ claims. In doing so the court relied in part on case law involving the separate doctrine of primary jurisdiction, which allowed a court to stay proceedings to give the relevant administrative agency an initial pass at the claims. The matter came before the Supreme Court, and it reverse the superior court’s order after review, finding that because the voters were not required to exhaust administrative remedies and because the order staying the proceedings could not be affirmed on independent grounds. View "Seybert v. Alsworth" on Justia Law

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The Lieutenant Governor declined to certify a proposed ballot initiative that would ban commercial set net fishing in nonsubsistence areas, reasoning that the initiative was a constitutionally prohibited appropriation of public assets. The superior court approved the initiative, concluding that set netters were not a distinct commercial user group and that the legislature and Board of Fisheries would retain discretion to allocate the salmon stock to other commercial fisheries. After the Supreme Court's review of the matter, it concluded that set netters were a distinct commercial user group that deserved recognition in the context of the constitutional prohibition on appropriations. The Court therefore reverse the superior court’s judgment because this proposed ballot initiative would have completely appropriated salmon away from set netters and prohibited the legislature from allocating any salmon to that user group. View "Lieutenant Governor of the State of Alaska v. Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance" on Justia Law

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In September 2010 RBG Bush Planes, LLC (Bush Planes) allowed two candidates for public office for the Lake and Peninsula Borough Assembly to travel on a series of preexisting flights throughout the borough. Bush Planes charged the candidates a fraction of the fuel costs associated with those flights. The Alaska Public Offices Commission investigated these charges, determined that Bush Planes’ fractional fuel-cost methodology did not represent a commercially reasonable rate, and assessed a $25,500 fine against Bush Planes for making illegal corporate contributions. Bush Planes appealed to the superior court, which affirmed the Commission. Bush Planes again appealed, this time to the Supreme Court, arguing: (1) that the Commission erred when it found Bush Planes had violated Alaska law; and (2) that the fine the Commission imposed was unconstitutionally excessive. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commission. View "RBG Bush Planes, LLC v. Alaska Public Offices Commission" on Justia Law

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Appellants Richard Hughes, the Alaska Miners Association, and the Council of Alaska Producers challenged Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell's certification of a ballot initiative that would require final legislative approval for any large-scale metallic sulfide mining operation located within the Bristol Bay watershed. Appellants argued that the initiative violated the constitutional prohibitions on appropriation and enacting local or special legislation by initiative. Following oral argument, the Alaska Supreme Court issued an order affirming the superior court's summary judgment order in favor of the State and the initiative sponsors, and allowing preparation of ballots to proceed. View "Hughes v. Treadwell" on Justia Law

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Robert Gillam and two of his business ventures filed suit, alleging that the Alaska Public Offices Commission should not have been allowed to investigate and decide whether Gillam and his businesses had committed certain campaign finance violations. Gillam alleged that both the Executive Director and the Chair of the Commission were biased and that further consideration by the Commission would violate his right to due process protected by the Alaska and federal constitutions and his Alaska constitutional right to a fair investigation. The superior court concluded that Gillam’s claims were not ripe and that Gillam has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Upon review, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed that there was an administrative recusal procedure for Gillam’s state law claims and that Gillam needed to exhaust that remedy before bringing his state law claims to court. The Court also agreed that Gillam’s federal due process claim was not ripe because the recusal procedure might resolve that claim. View "RBG Bush Planes, LLC v. Kirk" on Justia Law

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Appellant James Price appealed a superior court order affirming the Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk's rejection of his ballot referendum application. The proposed referendum would have repealed Borough Ordinance 2008-28, which authorized the general law cities within the Borough to tax non-prepared food items on a year-round basis. The Borough Clerk and the superior court rejected the application on the ground that it violated AS 29.26.100's prohibition on local or special legislation. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the referendum did not violate the prohibition on local or special legislation and would be enforceable if passed. Accordingly, the Court reversed. View "Price v. Kenai Peninsula Borough" on Justia Law

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Five voters owned homes in a borough and a home outside that borough. Two of the voters voted in the borough's 2010 election. All five voted in the borough's 2011 election. Although each voter was registered to vote, the borough's canvassing committee rejected the voters' ballots in each election on the ground that they were not borough residents. The voters appealed to the superior court and brought direct claims against the borough and a number of borough officials in their official and individual capacities. The court ruled that the voters were borough residents and legally qualified to vote in the 2010 and 2011 borough elections, and that the voters were to remain eligible to vote in future borough elections absent substantial changes in circumstances. The court denied the voters full reasonable attorney fees against the borough under AS 09.60.010(c), concluding that they did not bring constitutional claims, but awarded them partial attorney fees under Alaska Civil Rule 82. The borough appealed the residency determinations and the voters appealed the attorney fees awards. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decisions that the voters were borough residents and eligible to vote in the 2010 and 2011 borough elections, but vacated the order that the voters were automatically eligible to vote in future elections. The Court reversed the superior court's determination that the voters did not bring constitutional claims covered by AS 09.60.010(c), and remanded the case on the fee issue. View "Lake & Peninsula Borough Assembly v. Oberlatz" on Justia Law

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The Anchorage Assembly passed an ordinance modifying the labor relations chapter of the Anchorage Municipal Code. Two citizen-sponsors filed an application for a referendum that would repeal the ordinance. The Municipality rejected the application, reasoning that the proposed referendum addressed administrative matters that were not proper subjects for direct citizen legislation. The sponsors filed suit in superior court and prevailed on summary judgment. The Municipality appealed, arguing that the referendum was barred because: (1) state and municipal law grants exclusive authority over labor relations to the Assembly; (2) the referendum made an appropriation; and (3) its subject was administrative, not legislative. Following oral argument, the Supreme Court issued an order on January 10, 2014, affirming the superior court's grant of summary judgment to the sponsors. This opinion explained the Court's reasoning. View "Municipality of Anchorage v. Holleman" on Justia Law