Judge tosses Alaska Democrats’ lawsuit

A Juneau Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Alaska Democratic Party against the state of Alaska for its refusal to allow independents to appear on the party’s fall primary ballot.

In his decision, Judge Louis James Menendez wrote that the state’s motion to dismiss the case was appropriate because the Alaska Democratic Party has itself not yet approved rules allowing independents onto the party ballot.

That decision will not be made until the party’s statewide convention in May, when delegates will be asked to change the party’s rules.

“ADP’s exhibits … make clear that ADP’s rule change allowing independent and non-affiliated candidates to run in the Democratic primary is only a proposed rule change at this point in time,” Menendez wrote. “Any such rule change … will not be known to the parties or the court until the upcoming state convention, taking place in May of 2016.”

The Alaska Democratic Party opened its case against the state in February after Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott told ADP chairwoman Casey Steinau that state law didn’t permit independent candidates to run in the Democratic primary.

The state made a motion to dismiss the case in March, and the two sides held oral arguments in front of Menendez on April 8 in Juneau. The judge’s decision was released Monday afternoon.

Repeated Alaska Supreme Court decisions have found that state courts “should not issue advisory opinions or resolve abstract questions of law.”

“What ADP is asking this court to do amounts to a request for an advisory opinion,” Menendez wrote.

Only one candidate is known to be affected by Monday’s decision: independent U.S. Senate candidate Margaret Stock, who is running against Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Jon Choate, attorney for the Alaska Democratic Party, said the ADP has two choices for its next steps: It can appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court, or it can wait until after the convention and re-file the case.

“That’s a decision we’ll be making in the next several days,” he said. “In either situation, the superior court would still have to make a determination on the merits … at some point.”

Contact reporter James Brooks at James.k.brooks@juneauempire.com.

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