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.

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

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Friday, Feb. 23, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Rep. Tom McKay, R-Anchorage, speaks in favor of House Bill 143 on Friday. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House approves relaxed environmental rules for ‘advanced recycling’

Applies to facilities using high heat or chemicals to turn plastic garbage into raw materials.

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon (right) discusses the Juneau School District’s financial crisis with school board Vice President Emil Mackey (right) and City Attorney Robert Palmer during a meeting Thursday night at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Meetings to comment on Assembly’s proposed $9.6M of help to school district scheduled next two Mondays

Plan includes $4.1 million no-interest loan, picking up “shared costs” this year and next.

A crowd overflows the library at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Thursday night as school board members meet to select a consolidation option to help resolve the Juneau School District’s budget crisis. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
School district leaders approve putting grades 9-12 at JDHS, 7-8 and HomeBRIDGE at TMHS

Elementary schools will be K-6; Marie Drake, Floyd Dryden to close this fall if plan gets final OK.

Members of the Alaska House of Representatives celebrate the passage of a sweeping education bill on Thursday. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
House passes $680 BSA increase, with other education provisions

Bill now returns to Senate, which must pass it unchanged before it can head to the governor’s desk.

Most Read