Former Alaska Psychiatric Institute doctors win federal lawsuit challenging Dunleavy ‘loyalty pledge’

The Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services)
The Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Health and Social Services)

Two psychiatrists who were fired from the Alaska Psychiatric Institute in 2018 have won their case in U.S. District Court against Gov. Mike Dunleavy and former Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock.

Dunleavy, just before he came into office, required some 800 professional state employees to submit their resignations, along with a letter expressing interest in continuing to serve the new governor if they wanted to keep their jobs. The so-called “loyalty pledge” was required not just of high-level staffers of the executive branch but to positions such as state accountants, pharmacists, lawyers and geologists.

Drs. Anthony Blanford and John Bellville refused and were fired.

Judge John Sedwick found that Dunleavy’s demand essentially required state employees to support the governor’s political agenda. Sedwick ruled on Friday that it violated the employees’ First Amendment rights.

“For those who gave the ostensible pledge of support, the demand admittedly served as a warning that they were replaceable and that they worked for the new governor, which reasonably could be interpreted as a warning against political dissention in the state workforce,” Sedwick said. “This warning would be expected to chill employees’ political affiliations and activities that officials would consider subversive to the administration’s agenda.”

Sedwick granted the psychiatrists’ motion for summary judgment and ordered further discussions to determine what compensation they should receive.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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