Predictably, the Left’s propaganda machine is cranking up to excoriate Gov. Sean Parnell for the state’s effort to recover about $1 million in legal fees and costs incurred when a group sued the state over the issuance of temporary-use permits to the Pebble Partnership – and lost.
Among the group of plaintiffs who now face the prospect of repaying the state for the lawsuit they lost are two of Alaska’s most revered political figures, former state first lady Bella Hammond and Vic Fischer, who helped craft the Alaska Constitution. There are two other individuals and a group that now numbers 10 Bristol Bay-area tribal entities and their sister village corporations known as Nunamta Aulukestai involved in the case.
The Alaska Democratic Party fumes the state’s asking for reimbursement of lawsuit expenses it incurred is “unconscionable.” While Alaska was the target of the group’s lawsuit, the Pebble Partnership jumped in.
If there is anything unconscionable in all this, it is that Pebble opponents dragged these two historic state political icons into this mess and put them in a position of being liable for part of the legal bill for a battle waged by the Trustees for Alaska – which some say used “scorched” earth tactics in its intense lawsuit, causing added expense.
In the past, those who waged public-interest lawsuits seldom had to pay up if they lost. The lawsuits routinely were used to slow or block development, but that changed in 2003 when the Legislature changed the law to make it tougher to escape paying the winner.
In this case, the plaintiffs claimed the Department of Natural Resources should have held public hearings and made a public interest determination before the permits were issued. The state and Pebble say that is not required. A state Superior Court judge sided with them. The case is to be heard before the Supreme Court in December.
Part of any determination about whether the losing side pays is whether there were any financial incentives involved. Alaska and Pebble claim there was. The court also is to decide whether the state and Pebble can examine the finances of the losers to resolve that question.
Count us among those who are in awe of Hammond and Fischer’s role in this state’s history. Count us among those who hold them in the highest esteem. Count us among those whose respect for them knows no bounds. But none of that absolves them of their role in this lawsuit or makes them immune to the law’s requirements.
Those who lured them into using their important names in a questionable cause and then failed to indemnify them against potential liability are the ones who truly are unconscionable. The state of Alaska, representing all citizens, and Pebble, representing its shareholders, have the right – and duty – to follow the law in trying to recoup money they were forced to spend unnecessarily defending themselves in this lawsuit.
We are as sorry as anybody that Hammond and Fischer were dragged into this by people who did not have their best interests at heart, but their stature does not immunize them against the law’s requirements.
Perhaps the Left might like to ponder that before charging off at the next windmill.