Arguments in Wagoner case to be heard today

Posted: Friday, January 17, 2003

The Alaska Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments this morning in a case that could decide if Sen.-elect Thomas Wagoner assumes his Senate District Q seat Tuesday when the 23rd Legislature's first session opens.

In late November, a pair of Nikiski voters, William Grimm and Merrill McGahan, filed suit against Wagoner alleging the Republican Moderate candidate failed to report several business and financial connections as required by state laws governing candidates. While the trial court found that Wagoner failed to disclose some financial matters, it also noted his subsequent efforts to set the record straight.

Superior Court Judge Peter Michalski deemed Wagoner's transgressions trivial and dismissed the case Jan. 7 saying Wagoner had not violated state election laws to a degree sufficient to deny him the fruits of his Nov. 5 election victory.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission also found the omissions inconsequential. Following a hearing Dec. 7, the commissioners fined Wagoner a total of $150 for the shortcomings.

Grimm and McGahan, through their attorneys Chuck Robinson and John Rice, appealed their case to the Alaska Supreme Court and will argue that any violation of the law should deny Wagoner a seat in the Legislature.

Jeff Jefferson, attorney for Wagoner, has said such a strict interpretation of the law would cause havoc, because there may be well over 1,000 public officials on boards, commissions and other appointed positions who are subject to the financial disclosure laws. All of them could be challenged and subject to removal for even trifling omissions or mistakes as simple as misspelling names on a financial disclosure form.

Sitting legislators are not subject to the same statutes, but they do fall under other state laws governing disclosure statements by lawmakers.

Each side is scheduled for 15 minutes before the high court justices in which to state their cases beginning this morning at 10:30 a.m., according to the court's Web site.

Just when the justices might issue a ruling is not known, but one could be handed down almost immediately. Monday is Martin Luther King Day, a holiday, and the Legislature convenes Tuesday.

Should Wagoner lose, the election would be handed to Sen. Jerry Ward, the two-term Republican incumbent in the race for Senate District Q. Ward lost to Wagoner by 123 votes.

Wagoner, who ran as a Republican Moderate, has since re-registered as a Republican.

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