Thursday, June 24, 2010
As most people know, Sarah Palin is relentlessly attacked by those who elevate the state over the individual and by those who lack faith in any higher power except the regulatory power of Washington, D.C. Many of these people use – and abuse – the law, and in the case of Sarah Palin, they have abused our state ethics laws by repeatedly, remorselessly, and routinely filing false and malicious claims against her. So too, they have resorted to our courts, where several civil suits were filed against Sarah Palin. To date, these civil suits have been rejected by the courts as baseless. But we know the toll this caused the Palins. Almost a year ago, Governor Palin pointed out the many groundless complaints, records requests and suits filed against her, and explained that:
- “…it hasn’t been cheap – the State has wasted thousands of hours of your time and shelled out some two million of your dollars to respond to ‘opposition research’ – that’s money not going to fund teachers or troopers – or safer roads. And this political absurdity, the ‘politics of personal destruction’… Todd and I are looking at more than half a million dollars in legal bills in order to set the record straight. And what about the people who offer up these silly accusations? It doesn’t cost them a dime so they’re not going to stop draining public resources – spending other peoples’ money in their game…. Some Alaskans don’t mind wasting public dollars and state time. I do. I cannot stand here as your Governor and allow millions upon millions of our dollars go to waste just so I can hold the title of Governor.”
The past year has confirmed that Governor Palin was right. The number of false claims, records requests, mendacious accusations and ridiculous posturing by the left and street corner ethicists dropped dramatically – at least as applied to the mechanics of state government.
But it did not all go away when she stepped aside – some claims and suits are pending and are getting resolved in time. A judge in Anchorage recently issued a ruling throwing out a baseless claim against Governor Palin – and indirectly involving Todd Palin. In this civil claim, Todd Palin was being attacked because he was a close and trusted advisor to his wife, the Governor. That he was should surprise no one. The claimant asserted that because Todd Palin was not being paid by the State of Alaska, any emails copied to him could not be protected by the standard law of deliberative process privilege – a privilege that essentially protects the decision making process in government in order to allow the decision makers the freedom to honestly discuss policy and process and promote the open exchange of ideas. The claimant demanded the right to see emails that were sent to Todd Palin.
In a well reasoned opinion, the judge explored state law, federal law (including an historical discussion on First Lady Sarah Polk, wife of President James K. Polk), and invoked a too rarely used legal principle – common sense – to throw out this lawsuit. In so doing, the court concluded that Todd Palin, as the First Gentleman, though unpaid, was in essence a privileged consultant to the Office of the Governor, and the court compared Todd Palin’s privileged consultations to First Lady Hillary Clinton, in which a federal court determined that the chief executive’s spouse “acts as the functional equivalent of an assistant to the President.” And, with state government employees assisting the first spouse, Todd Palin had a clear and obvious privileged consultative function and is analogous to a de facto state officer.
The court ultimately concluded that “common sense and Federal law” compel the conclusion that “Todd Palin could properly… act as an advisor to the Governor” and therefore he was appropriately involved in policy discussions, emails, and deliberative discussions, all of which are protected from disclosure. Official Court Ruling
It is refreshing to see a court resort to common sense and historical precedent. Further, as more and more women get elected to high office (What are they called now? – “Mama Grizzlies”?), it is notable that challenges such as this, which were based on sexist notions and demeaning attitudes towards women, are being rejected. This suit challenged Todd Palin’s role as a first spouse and was implicitly premised on the idea that a male spouse must somehow exert too much influence over a female chief executive. Hence the demand to “see those emails” from Todd Palin; but contrast this with decades of silence relative to communications to prior executive spouses – female spouses. That dismissive and contemptuous posture towards the new brand of feminist leaders was appropriately condemned by the court as lacking a basis in reality.
There are, of course, some remaining issues to address. The attacks against Sarah Palin will continue. They are distractions meant to keep her off message. There will be times when Sarah Palin will have to take one for the team in order to continue on with her message to the country and simply resolve matters without having to incur crushing personal debt. That is the cost, unfortunately, of public life today. When that happens, read the details closely – like the details in this court opinion. Every time you do you will see that Sarah Palin has always acted with honest intent. You will see that again soon. Today’s ruling is a positive step not just for Sarah and Todd Palin, but for all female chief executives currently in office – and waiting to take office in November.
- Thomas Van Flein, Attorney for Sarah Palin