Quinlan Steiner, the director of Alaska’s Public Defender Agency, told the governor Tuesday that he plans on resigning as soon as the state can find a replacement for him.
Steiner didn’t explain his reasoning for resigning in his two-paragraph letter. The Empire reached out to Steiner for comment but did not hear back.
The resignation comes less than two weeks after The Associated Press reported that Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration denied a request from Steiner — who is based in Anchorage — to come down to Juneau to testify about crime bills. Specifically, Steiner was trying to come down to testify on House Bill 49, a bill proposed by Dunleavy that increases sentencing ranges. Steiner told The Associated Press that Dunleavy’s Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock denied him travel for the rest of session.
At the same time, Dunleavy had refused to appoint a Superior Court judge in Palmer, which overshadowed the conversation about Steiner’s travel denial.
Still, legislators expressed their displeasure at the administration’s denial of Steiner’s travel. Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, said in a statement issued March 22 that limiting travel for public defenders while allowing prosecutors — such as the Department of Law Director John Skidmore — to travel freely is an imbalanced approach.
“There appears to be no precedent in Alaska history in which the Governor authorized prosecutors to travel to Juneau to testify on criminal justice bills but refused the same courtesy to public defenders,” Fields, co-chair of the State Affairs Committee, said in the statement. “Having the perspective of both prosecutors and public defenders is crucial when reviewing bills related to public safety.”
Skidmore, for example, testified in person at a Feb. 7 meeting of the Senate State Affairs Committee about Senate Bill 34, another of the governor’s crime bills that deals with probation and parole.
During a March 22 House Judiciary Committee meeting, Chair Matt Claman said the committee would only accept Anchorage-based lawyers telephonically until Steiner was allowed to travel. That way, the tables could be even.
In his resignation letter, Steiner said he’ll remain in his position until the Alaska Judicial Council finds a replacement for him.
“We wish Mr. Steiner the best and await the consideration of the Judicial Council,” Dunleavy Press Secretary Matt Shuckerow said in a statement.
Steiner, a fourth-generation Alaskan, has been an attorney with the State Public Defender agency since 1998 and was appointed as head of the agency in 2005. He’s been a member of the Criminal Rules Committee since 2006 and the Criminal Justice Working Group since 2008, according to his biography in the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission’s 2018 report.
The Public Defender Agency provides legal representation to those who cannot afford to pay for their own. The agency has 13 offices throughout the state from Ketchikan to Utqiaġvik.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.