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Dunleavy denies claims in loyalty pledge lawsuits brought by former state employees

ACLU of Alaska Legal Director Stephen Koteff announces lawsuits against Gov. Mike Dunleavy, his Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock, and the state on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. Behind Koteff are two of the three plaintiffs, Dr. John Bellville, left, and Libby Bakalar, right, state employees who were terminated after Dunleavy took office. Also behind Koteff is Joshua Decker, ACLU of Alaska Executive Director. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

JUNEAU — Gov. Mike Dunleavy, his chief of staff, and the state of Alaska are denying claims in federal court that the firing of an assistant attorney general and two doctors at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute was because of a failure to sign a loyalty pledge to the incoming administration.

In addition to denying the claims, they are asking for a jury trial to prove their case. It’s the latest development in a lawsuit filed soon after the governor took office.

The new governor’s transition team asked hundreds of state employees to submit letters of resignation as part of the transition process from former Gov. Bill Walker.

"(Dunleavy) just wants all of the state employees who are at-will — partially exempt, exempt employees — to affirmatively say, ‘Yes, I want to work for the Dunleavy administration,'” Dunleavy chief of staff Tuckerman Babcock told the Daily News at the time.

Two psychiatrists failed to submit a letter as asked and were fired by the state. Two assistant attorney generals were fired by the state after submitting the letters; one of those lawyers, Elizabeth Bakalar, has filed suit with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union. Both psychiatrists have also filed suit in a separate case.

Court documents filed Friday in both cases state in part, “Defendants deny that the memorandum was intended to request resignations for the purpose of soliciting ‘a pledge of allegiance.’”

The documents do not reveal why Bakalar or the two psychiatrists were fired, saying, “Defendants decline, pursuant to Alaska law, to discuss personnel matters of non-parties in a public pleading without a protective order in place, and therefore will not discuss an employee’s work performance.”

The governor and state are being represented by a private Anchorage law firm hired on contract.

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