By Becky Bohrer
JUNEAU — Attorney General Treg Taylor said Monday he takes seriously his duty to decide which cases to pursue in the public interest and is hopeful that under his leadership the state won’t see a “string of losing cases.”
His comments were in response to questions during a confirmation hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Matt Claman, the chair and an attorney, said he was “troubled” by a number of cases that seem like political positions but “legally, they’re very, very poor positions to take.”
Some of the cases Claman cited were still moving through the legal system, including a school funding dispute set for arguments before the Alaska Supreme Court. In another case, a judge found Gov. Mike Dunleavy unconstitutionally used his veto powers to punish the courts after a Supreme Court decision that invalidated proposed abortion restrictions.
“If you were to ask me what is the single most important job if you are to succeed as attorney general, it’s to convince this governor to stop taking poor cases,” Claman, an Anchorage Democrat, said.
Taylor took issue with Claman’s characterization, saying the governor, in his opinion, doesn’t make those decisions. He said the state Supreme Court has held the attorney general has the discretion to decide what litigation is in the public interest.
“I’m going to be hands-on on those decisions,” he said. Factoring in will be the interests involved, the law and probable outcomes, he said. Taylor added later that attorneys in the Department of Law, which he heads, do good work and there were “good legal arguments” supporting stances taken in the cases cited by Claman.
Taylor also said he would reach out to the Legislature’s attorneys to see if there are ways to come together on major issues. The legislative and executive branches have had at times a contentious relationship, which has included litigation.
Dunleavy appointed Taylor as attorney general in January to replace Ed Sniffen. Sniffen, a longtime attorney with the department, resigned as attorney general while the Anchorage Daily News and the ProPublica investigative journalism organization were preparing an article about allegations of sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old girl three decades ago.
Sniffen cited personal reasons in resigning. He did not respond to messages seeking comment at the time from The Associated Press.
Dunleavy spokesman Jeff Turner has said Dunleavy was unaware of the allegations against Sniffen when he accepted his resignation. He also has said that as details of the allegations became known, Dunleavy directed Taylor to appoint special outside counsel to look into the matter.
Sniffen replaced Kevin Clarkson. Clarkson submitted his resignation in August for what he called a “lapse of judgment” after details of text messages he sent to another state employee were revealed.
Taylor said he knows little about the human resources investigation in Clarkson’s case but said, “I think ultimately the right thing happened there.” He described Clarkson as a good friend whom he knows to be “an honorable man.”
“He himself would be the first to tell you that he is extremely embarrassed by what had occurred and what had happened and that it was inappropriate in the workplace,” Taylor said.
Pressed by Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins about whether Taylor believed the matter was handled appropriately, Taylor said people should be held accountable.
“I’m also a firm believer that good people sometimes do bad things. And that doesn’t mean we don’t hold them accountable. We should, and that’s the right thing to do. Right, as a society, we need to do that,” Taylor said. “I guess that’s my closing comments on that issue.”
Claman plans to continue the hearing, to allow for more questions from lawmakers. Taylor’s appointment is subject to legislative approval.
Taylor has been with the department since late 2018. His resume also includes practice in commercial litigation and work as an attorney for an investment firm and for a subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional Corp.