New judge assigned in recall suit

Despite an expedited court schedule in a lawsuit by three Homer City Council members seeking to stop a June 13 recall election, public notice of the election will proceed. The city has to issue a notice 30 days in advance, or by May 18. It also has to print election ballots soon. The deadline to register to vote in that election is May 14.

A court hearing of May 25 at the Anchorage Court to present oral arguments had been set by Anchorage Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner, the second judge assigned to the case, but Pfiffner has now been removed from the case following a peremptory challenge of Pfiffner by Heartbeat of Homer, the group seeking to recall three Homer City Council members. Judge Pamela Washington has now assigned the case to Anchorage Superior Court Judge Andrew Guidi. Guidi has not set a new hearing.

Council members Donna Aderhold, David Lewis and Catriona Reynolds, the officials targeted in the recall, filed a suit in April seeking to have the recall election stopped. With assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union Alaska, the plaintiffs allege that the grounds for the recall are insufficient. The recall organizers cited the council members’ support for two controversial resolutions as a reason for the recall. Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds said those grounds violate their constitutional right to free speech.

On May 3, Pffifner granted a motion by Stacey Stone, Heartbeat of Homer’s attorney, seeking intervenor status. Heartbeat of Homer registered with the Alaska Public Offices Commission to advocate for the recall of the three council members. After being admitted to the lawsuit, Stone promptly filed a peremptory challenge disqualifying Pffifner. Judge Washington considered that motion as an impartial judge and granted the challenge on May 5.

In a 2011 decision before same-sex couples won the right to marry in 2014, Pfiffner ruled in favor of the ACLU Alaska in a case asserting that same-sex couples are entitled to the same senior citizen property tax exemptions and disabled veteran exemptions as married couples. Pfiffner was appointed to the Superior Court by former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell in 2009.

“I think we won in that case because we had a better legal argument,” said ACLU Alaska director Joshua Decker.

According to its website, Stone is the legal counsel for the Alaska Republican Party. However, Stone also represented Rep. Ben Nageak, D-Barrow, in the Democratic Party primary recount last year in Barrow, now known as Utgiagvik.

In an email, District 31 Republican Party chairperson Jonathan Faulkner said the district has not taken a position on the recall election and remains neutral.