Leader of state's criminal prosecutors quits

Posted: Tuesday, April 09, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The deputy attorney general who supervises criminal prosecution in Alaska resigned Monday in the wake of two controversial cases and scathing criticism of her office by a state judge and a federal judge.

Cynthia Cooper submitted her resignation to Attorney General Bruce Botelho, effective Thursday.

Cooper's departure comes after a stinging rebuke last week from Superior Court Judge Jonathan Link, who said Cooper and her assistants singled out Wally Tetlow, an assistant public defender, for harsher treatment than other defendants would have received after a car crash.

The felony prosecution of Tetlow was ''spiteful and malicious,'' Link said in his ruling throwing out two felony assault charges against Tetlow.

Tetlow had agreed to plead guilty to reckless driving and another misdemeanor after ramming his car into a light pole, slightly injuring a passenger, early on Aug. 29, 2001. But prosecutors killed the deal and took the case to a grand jury. Tetlow was then charged with two counts of felony assault.

Link listened to 12 days of testimony before he issued his ruling. He said prosecutors made decisions in the case based on who Tetlow is, not what he did. The judge also said in his ruling that he believed some prosecutors had lied to him from the witness stand.

In addition to the Tetlow case, Cooper came under fire in federal court over her handling of sex offender registration cases.

U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland ruled Jan. 18 that Alaska's sex registration law is unconstitutional for pre-1994 sex offenders. He ordered a halt to prosecution of such offenders.

Last month, Holland threatened to cite Cooper and the attorney general's office for disobeying his order, but stopped short of that since attorneys took no significant court action in those cases. The state is appealing Holland's ruling.

In her resignation letter, Cooper defended her conduct.

''The judge in the sex offender case acknowledged that his opinion of my credibility was based only on the limited record before him,'' she wrote, and said that Botelho agreed Holland would have reached a different conclusion if the judge had listened to all the evidence.

Cooper also defended her decisions in the Tetlow case.

''I directed this case be presented to the grand jury to try to obtain more evidence of intoxication to make a solid drunk driving case,'' she wrote. ''This was consistent with Governor (Tony) Knowles', the Legislature's and the public's developing interest in forceful prosecution of drunk drivers.''

Cooper concluded, however, that it was time to step down because ''I recognize that the media coverage has impaired my continuing ability to remain in my position...''

Cooper was not in her office Monday afternoon and a receptionist said she didn't know how Cooper could be reached.

Attorney General Bruce Botelho also was not in the office, and didn't return a call seeking comment.

Botelho said in a statement that Cooper had been an exemplary public servant for nearly 20 years and ''the citizens of Alaska have rarely had as zealous an advocate for public safety.''

Lawyer Jim McComas, who defended Tetlow, was much less charitable.

''Two judges in written decisions in two different courts found that she directed people under her supervision to do illegal acts. And then when called on it, she misrepresented the truth,'' McComas said. ''It seems to me they've done a great courtesy letting her resign.''

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