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Licensed lawyer and blogger win case against Dunleavy administration

Libby Bakalar. (Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

A federal district court judge ruled Thursday that Gov. Mike Dunleavy violated the First Amendment rights of an assistant attorney general he fired the day he was sworn in.

The confirmed lawyer is Libby Bakalar, from Juneau.

“The bottom line was that I was fired in violation of my free speech rights,” she said. “And that’s what the judge found – that I was improperly fired under the state and federal constitutions, and that constitutes unfair treatment by the state. So I’m pretty satisfied with the decision.

Judge John Sedwick wrote that Bakalar was clearly a reputable lawyer who won important cases for the state. But she gained attention for her off-duty writing, a liberal and often secular blog called “A hot mess.”

She, like 250 other at-will employees, was asked to quit or write what she describes as a pledge of loyalty if she wanted to stay with the Dunleavy administration. She quit but wrote a letter saying she was forced to.

She then filed a lawsuit against the state, Dunleavy and her first chief of staff, Tuckerman Babcock. Babcock claimed he fired Bakalar not because of his political views, but because his resignation letter was unprofessional. The judge said it was clear that Bakalar’s political views and speech were factors in Babcock’s decision.

The judge ruled that Babcock and Dunleavy had qualified immunity and therefore could not be held personally liable.

The governor’s office referred questions about the decision to the Law Department, which did not issue an immediate statement.

Bakalar said she didn’t know what kind of damages she would seek, but she didn’t want her old job back. She is now the Bethel City Attorney.

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