Judge denies Governor Palin’s request for attorney fees in dismissed frivolous lawsuit

Via the AP’s Becky Bohrer:

JUNEAU,  Alaska (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday denied Sarah  Palin‘s request for more than $22,000 in attorney fees in a case against her  that was dismissed.

U.S.  District Judge Timothy  Burgess last year dismissed a case against the former Alaska governor by  activist Chip  Thoma, saying Thoma didn’t provide the evidence necessary to support his  claims. Thoma alleged Palin had acted to silence him for complaining about  tourist bus traffic on the narrow, windy streets around the governor’s mansion  in 2009.

Burgess  in October ordered that Palin recover costs, but on Wednesday denied her request  for attorney fees. In his written decision, he said courts have limited  situations in which defendants may recover attorney fees to those where claims  against them were “frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.”

This is not surprising as it’s notoriously difficult for a defendant to recover attorney fees in our legal system, regardless of how frivolous the plaintiff’s lawsuit is. It’s also difficult, though not quite as difficult, to recover court costs. The fact the judge awarded Governor Palin costs, as I noted last October, is evidence of just how frivolous this lawsuit was. I guess awarding the Governor her attorney fees as well was a bridge too far for Judge Burgess. To get an idea of just how nutty this lawsuit — and the individual who filed it — is, Stacy outlined the particulars two years ago.

This all started back in May of 2009, when Chip Thoma started publicly protesting tourists visiting Juneau and the buses that drove them around the city. He claimed that Governor Palin attracted “voyeurism” due to her “notoriety,” in an interview he gave to the Anchorage Daily News shortly after he sent letters to tour bus operators and started placing signs that read “Stop Local Tours” around the area of the governor’s mansion. Palin offered to meet with Thoma to see if they could work something out, but he declined the meeting. She then delivered a written statement in which she welcomed the tourists and said she “can’t imagine other areas of Alaska looking at having the Governor’s house nearby as a degrading irritation that invites voyeurism.”

The current complaint from Thoma was filed as an intentional tort, meaning that he believes she caused him some sort of harm by speaking about his efforts to curb tourism to the city. Governor Palin was completely within the bounds of the law, and also her duty, to speak publicly about someone who was attacking one the state’s largest industries.

As Palin’s attorney stated in the AP article, this case will be thrown out, just as the case Chip Thoma filed against former Alaska Governor, Walter Hickel in 1997. The case of Thoma vs. Hickel is a key detail left out of Becky Bohrer’s report. Considering the complaint is of the same nature, and directed at the same seat of government, one would think this would be a relevant item to the current story.

Walter Hickel was accused of engaging in a “smear campaign” against Chip Thoma after Thoma began a recall effort against the governor. The Sierra Club joined Mr. Thoma in his effort to get Governor Hickel out of office. When Hickel’s office wrote the Sierra Club asking them why would they align themselves with a convicted felon and a serial drunk driver, Thoma cried foul over the disclosure of such information. Everything Hickel’s office stated in their letter was a matter of public record. And as was the case in 2009, “under Alaska law, public officials in the executive departments of government have either absolute or qualified immunity from tort suits.”

If this isn’t a textbook definition of a frivolous lawsuit, I don’t know what is.  Read Stacy’s entire post here.


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