NEWS: Legislation Filed to Protect the Right to Sue in the Public Interest in Alaska

Rep. Andrew Josephson

Rep. Josephson’s Bill Gives the Courts More Discretion Regarding the Payment of Attorney’s Fees in Public Interest Lawsuits

February 23, 2016

Juneau – Representative Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage) has filed legislation to protect public interest litigants in Alaska from having to pay large sums of money in attorney’s fees if they lose the case they are pursuing.  The bill would repeal sections of Alaska Statutes that prohibit courts from considering whether a party is a public interest litigant in determining award of attorney’s fees and whether the party should be required to pay a bond.

“Individuals and organizations should be free to challenge laws and decisions if such a challenge is in the public interest,” said Rep. Josephson.  “However, in Alaska many of these public interest litigants are wary of taking a case to court for fear of having to pick up huge sums in attorney’s fees.  My bill puts that discretion back in the hands of judges who can best judge if a case was brought to protect the public interest.”

The sections of Alaska Statutes subject to repeal under Rep. Josephson’s bill were put in place in 2003 and follow the ‘loser pays’ principle for attorney’s fees.  The new law was invalidated by a trial court but in 2007 the Alaska Supreme Court reversed that ruling and eliminated the public interest exception in Alaska, except for cases dealing with constitutional issues.

“The change in statutes in 2003 had a significant chilling effect on the filing of public interest litigation in Alaska,” said Rep. Josephson.  “It’s unfortunate that some lawsuits that could protect the public interest were never filed for fear of the cost of losing the case.  Money should not be the determining factor for whether or not we protect the public’s interest.”

Under Rep. Josephson’s bill, the courts in Alaska may rely on jurisprudence and the guidelines of Civil Rule 82 in determining the distribution of attorney’s fees and whether a litigant must put up a bond.

For more information, contact Megan Rowe in Rep. Josephson’s office at (907) 465-4939.


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