Update: Attorney General Craig Richards resigns abruptly

Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott at Perm Fund Q&A
Gov. Bill Walker, right, and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott listen to Attorney General Craig Richards as he presents information to lawmakers at a Q&A session with the governor and key cabinet members to discuss plans for reorganizing the Permanent Fund, April 20, 2016. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The head of Alaska’s legal team announced today he is stepping down.

Richards is one of Gov. Bill Walker’s closest advisers. His responsibilities extended well beyond legal issues, including playing a lead role in shaping Walker’s plan to restructure Permanent Fund earnings.

Former Attorney General Bruce Botelho worked with Richards as part of Walker’s transition team. He notes Richards has longtime ties with Walker, beginning with spending 10 years as his law partner. Richards has been the state’s top attorney since Walker appointed him in 2014.

“The governor viewed Craig as the key component to the partnership,” Botelho said. “Then, in the course of the campaign, Craig — aside from the governor’s wife Donna — was his closest adviser.”

Richards’ resignation came suddenly — today is his last day. Botelho said Richards will be difficult to replace.

“I think it’s fair to say there’ll be no one who will have the same broad portfolio that Craig did,” he said.

Richards frequently served as the administration’s face during committee hearings and in private meetings with lawmakers.

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski said he was surprised by Richards’ departure.

“There did seem to be an adversarial relationship with the legislature, with many legislators, particularly Republicans,” Wielechowski said. “I don’t know what is the root cause of that – it’s probably a number of different things.”

Walker noted in announcing the resignation that Richards’ work pulled him away from his 3-year-old son.

According to state records, Richards and his wife filed for divorce in late May.

Walker said he’s grateful for the sacrifices Richards and his family made. Walker expressed confidence that the state will continue to benefit from Richards’ knowledge.

Jim Cantor, currently the state’s deputy attorney general, will step in to lead the Department of Law until Walker appoints a new attorney general.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated and expanded. Rashah McChesney contributed to this report.