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Judge sides with Alaska attorney who alleged wrongful firing
Legal Network | 2022/01/21 18:15
A U.S. judge sided Thursday with an attorney who alleged she was wrongly fired by the state of Alaska over political opinions expressed on a personal blog.

U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick ruled that Elizabeth Bakalar’s December 2018 firing violated her free speech and associational rights under the U.S. and state constitutions.

According to Sedwick’s decision, Bakalar was an attorney with the Alaska Department of Law who handled election-related cases and was assigned to advise or represent state agencies in high-profile or complex matters. She began a blog in 2014 that focused on issues such as lifestyle, parenting and politics but began blogging more about politics and then-President Donald Trump after his 2016 election. She also commented about Trump on Twitter, with her name listed as the Twitter handle, the order says.

Shortly after Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s election in 2018, the chair of his transition team and later his chief of staff, Tuckerman Babcock, sent a memo to a broad swath of state employees requesting they submit their resignations along with a statement of interest in continuing to work for the new administration. The request was derided by attorneys for Bakalar and others as a demand for a “loyalty pledge.”

“To keep their jobs employees had to actually offer up a resignation with an accompanying statement of interest in continuing with the new administration and then hope that the incoming administration would reject the resignation,” Sedwick wrote.

Babcock said he fired Bakalar because he considered the tone of her resignation letter to be unprofessional, the order says. But Sedwick said Babcock did not accept the resignation of an assistant attorney general who used the same wording he had found objectionable when used by Bakalar.

While every lawyer in the Department of Law received the memo, just two — Bakalar and another attorney who had been critical of Trump on social media — had their resignation letters accepted, according to Sedwick’s decision.


Partisan letters cost long-serving Alaska magistrate his job
Legal Network | 2022/01/11 19:05
The longest serving magistrate in Alaska is no longer on the bench after writing letters to the editor critical of the Republican party.

Former Seward Magistrate George Peck wrote four letters to the editor of the Anchorage Daily News, the latest in December which claimed the Republican party “is actively trying to steer the U.S. into an authoritarian kleptocracy.”

The other letters written since 2019 have been critical of former President Donald Trump and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, both Republicans, and the GOP, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Peck did not note his judicial position when signing in the letters, and there have been no complaints filed against him. However, his supervisor, Anchorage Superior Court Judge William Morse, ordered the court’s human resources department to investigate.

Morse said in a formal decision last Wednesday that Peck’s letter was in violation of Alaska’s code of judicial conduct.

“As a magistrate judge, the public entrusts you to decide cases with the utmost fairness, independence and impartiality. The power of your own voice, even when expressed off the bench, can become inextricably tied to your position, especially in a small community where you are the sole judicial officer,” Morse said.

When the 81-year-old Peck was informed Wednesday that he would be fired two days later, he instead immediately submitted his resignation and worked his last day Thursday.

Peck told the Anchorage newspaper that he doesn’t regret the letter and said he was just “stating a fact that the Republican Party tried to overturn the election, which I think most people agree on.”

He also doesn’t blame the juridical system for forcing him out.

“Clearly, they were justified in doing what they’re doing,” Peck said. “I just think they could have found a little better way to do it, but that’s up to them.”

Peck began working as a magistrate judge in 1976 and retired from full-time work in 2016. The court system kept him working on a temporary, part-time basis.

Magistrates oversee minor judicial matters in the court system, such as traffic violations, small-claims cases and time-sensitive matters, such as search warrants and domestic violence cases.


Griffis beginning 8-year term on Mississippi Supreme Court
Legal Network | 2021/12/26 05:31
The Mississippi Supreme Court is holding a ceremony Monday for Justice Kenny Griffis to begin a new term of office.

Griffis served 16 years on the state Court of Appeals. In February 2019, then-Gov. Phil Bryant appointed him to fill an open seat on the Supreme Court.

Griffis won an election to the Supreme Court in November 2020. The court has nine justices, and Griffis holds one of two seats with a delay of more than a year between the election and the beginning of the new term.

During the ceremony Monday at the Gartin Justice Building in Jackson, Griffis will take the oath for an eight-year term.

Griffis is a Meridian native who now lives in Ridgeland. He earned accounting and law degrees from the University of Mississippi. He is an adjunct professor at the Mississippi College School of Law and the University of Mississippi School of Law.

Griffis was chief judge of the 10-member Court of Appeals when Bryant moved him to the Supreme Court.


Appeals court upholds mask requirement for Knox schools
Legal Network | 2021/12/21 18:42
A federal appeals court has upheld the mask requirement for Knox County Schools.

A U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit panel on Monday denied the school board’s request to pause the mask requirement while the issue is debated in court, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer ruled in September the school system must adopt a mask mandate to help protect children with health problems more susceptible to the coronavirus pandemic.

Knox County Schools argued virtual classes are a reasonable accommodation, but children attend at home and must be supervised.

“Like the district court, we are not persuaded that virtual schooling is a reasonable alternative to universal masking,” the appeals court wrote. The full appeal of the Knox County case will be heard at a later date, the newspaper reported.

Knox County adopted a mask mandate during the 2020-21 school year but chose not to this year despite COVID-19 numbers that remained high. Public health agencies say indoor mask-wearing is a key coronavirus-prevention tool.


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