• ACT tried to recover legal fees on case that prevailed but court turns it down
The Alaska Supreme Court issued a ruling Friday that the Alliance of Concerned Citizens must pay for its own attorney fees after suing the Kenai Peninsula Borough on the matter of term limits.
Believing the borough assembly has a long history of ignoring voters on term limits, ACT decided to file initiative petitions for term limits on the Kenai Borough Assembly and School Board Members in 2007. Both passed and were challenged in court where assembly term limits prevailed and the limit on the school board was denied.
This means ACT won one matter and lost on the other, and for five years fought to recover attorney costs.
The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling that there was no clearly prevailing party, and therefore, there would be no compensation for attorney fees.
ACT’s Mike McBride said he is disappointed.
“I have talked to our attorney about this, and he is reviewing the material now. I’ll be talking to him and we’ll have a better understanding of exactly what was said,” McBride said.
ACT is a grassroots organization, all volunteer. The only source of revenue are occasional fundraisers and donations. Each lawsuit is paid for by donations from individuals who step forward to pledge help. This case was handled by Ken Jacobus, an experienced municipal attorney.
ACT challenges the borough when caps on spending enacted by voters aren’t followed by the assembly, and in matters relating to sales tax. In the case of the term limit lawsuit, the court agreed with ACT that if the voters approved the initiative, then term limits should hold.
“Term limits are working and they are working quite well,” McBride said. Borough Assembly members are limited to two three-year terms, then must step aside and cannot run for election. This year, Gary Knopp will be termed out.
Two other ACT lawsuits, both filed in 2006, are still making their ways through the courts.
“We try and it’s frustrating when the little guy goes up against the big government machine, and of course they fight us with our money. We pay twice,” McBride said. “If the sales tax and capital projects suits go against us, there will be another opportunity for the borough to ask for attorney fees from us.”
Even if ACT is a public watch dog, if they lose lawsuits they must reimburse the borough’s legal fees.
One lawsuit is asking the borough to honor a 2 percent cap on sales tax.
The other is putting a cap of $1.5 million for capital projects. Both of these were ballot measures approved by the public that the assembly didn’t abide by, McBride said.
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