Gavel (Courtesy photo)

Judge sides with psychiatrists who alleged wrongful firing

Two psychiatrists said they were wrongfully fired when Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy took office.

  • Becky Bohrer Associated Press
  • Wednesday, October 13, 2021 2:30am
  • NewsState News

By Becky Bohrer

Associated Press

A U.S. judge on Friday sided with two psychiatrists who said they were wrongfully fired when Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy took office.

Anthony Blanford and John Bellville, who worked at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, declined to submit resignation letters requested shortly after Dunleavy’s 2018 election by the chair of his transition team and later his chief of staff, Tuckerman Babcock. Blanford and Bellville subsequently were fired.

Attorneys for the men in court records argued that Babcock, in demanding resignations from a broad swath of public employees, “unquestionably sought to compel speech in support of Governor-elect Dunleavy’s political agenda.” They said the request sought to elicit “a pledge of loyalty” from employees.

In a decision Friday, U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick said the nature of the demand was “political.”

He wrote that the scope of the demand for resignations, “which undisputedly went beyond what was customary during an administration transition, and extended to employees not occupying policymaking positions, demonstrates that the purpose went beyond routine employment action.”

“They were not actually asking at-will employees to resign en mass,” he continued. “Rather, they were asking employees to offer up their job to the new administration’s express approval on a basis left unclear, but with suggestive political underpinnings.”

The case was brought against Dunleavy, Babcock and the state. An email seeking comment from Michael Bruce Baylous, one of the attorneys listed as representing them, was not immediately returned. An email seeking comment was sent to Dunleavy’s office.

Babcock is no longer with the administration.

Sedwick said the defendants “were requiring an ostensible commitment of political support, or at least deference, in return for continued employment, the effect of which was to either interfere with or chill employees’ exercise of protected First Amendment rights. Those that did not want to signal such a commitment, like Plaintiffs, were fired.”

He asked the parties to confer on any remaining issues. Stephen Koteff, an attorney with the ACLU of Alaska Foundation representing Blanford and Bellville, said one issue to resolve would be damages.

Koteff called Sedwick’s decision “a significant vindication for the free speech rights of state employees, all public employees for that matter.”

He said Blanford had returned to work at the facility with a contractor following his firing.

Sedwick is also assigned to a separate but similar case brought by former Department of Law attorney Elizabeth Bakalar.

More in News

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Anchor Point house fire leaves one dead, one in serious condition

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Snow and debris from an avalanche can be seen near Mile 45 on the Seward Highway on Monday, March 29, 2021. (Photo courtesy Goldie Shealy)
Center promotes avalanche awareness

The Chugach Avalanche Center in Girdwood will begin its daily forecasts Saturday.

Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Seawatch: Historic sockeye run predicted for Bristol Bay

ADF&G says 2022 run could break this year’s record

The entrance to the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area in the Tongass National Forest was covered in snow on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, a day after federal authorities announced the next step in restoring the 2001 Roadless Rule on the forest. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Feds put freeze on Roadless Rule rollback

On the Roadless Rule again.

tease
Alaska man pleads not guilty to threatening 2 US senators

If convicted, he could face a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

Commercial fishing vessels are seen here on the Kenai River on July 10, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Fishing industry takes a hit during pandemic

Overall fish harvesting jobs in Alaska dropped by the widest margin since 2000 — 14.1% — in 2020.

FILE - The Olympic rings stand atop a sign at the entrance to the Squaw Valley Ski Resort in Olympic Valley, Calif., on July 8, 2020. U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, declared "squaw" to be a derogatory term and said she is taking steps to remove the term from federal government use and to replace other derogatory place names. The popular California ski resort changed its name to Palisades Tahoe earlier this year. (AP Photo/Haven Daley, File)
Interior secretary seeks to rid U.S. of derogatory place names

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Friday formally declared… Continue reading

Most Read