Governor Dunleavy stifles voice of Public Defender during important public safety discussions
JUNEAU – House State Affairs Committee Co-Chair Representative Zack Fields and House Judiciary Committee Chair Representative Matt Claman on Tuesday expressed disappointment in Governor Mike Dunleavy’s decision to accelerate the departure of the state’s longtime Public Defender, Quinlan Steiner, by appointing an interim replacement.
On April 2, Mr. Steiner announced he would resign “effective on appointment of a new public defender appointed by the Alaska Judicial Council.” A common sense reading of Alaska Statute 18.85.030, relating to the appointment and term of the Public Defender, provides for an orderly process to choose a replacement when a vacancy occurs.
The governor can only remove the Public Defender for good cause under Alaska Statute 18.85.040, something that did not happen in this case. Quinlan Steiner gave reasonable notice of his impending resignation and began an orderly process for the Alaska Judicial Council to solicit applications for the vacancy. Unfortunately, the governor’s decision to accelerate that process and appoint his own interim replacement undermines the council’s duties and process.
“By accepting Quinlan Steiner’s resignation prematurely, and during discussions about bills related to public safety, it appears that Governor Dunleavy is trying to quell debate and prevent the Legislature from hearing vital information that the Public Defender is uniquely able to provide. This decision undermines the open and public proceedings in the legislature and erodes public trust in the process,” Representative Claman said.
“As lawmakers are working through a variety of legislation aimed at making Alaska safer, having the perspective of all criminal justice related departments is crucial.” Representative Fields said. “Moving forward, I have asked that the interim Public Defender, named by the Governor last week, be present in Juneau at all future meetings if the administration would like to have its criminal justice bills heard in committee.”
Office of Representative Matt Claman