GOP's effort to halt 'troopergate' probe heads to court

A lawsuit aimed at freezing the Legislature's abuse-of-power investigation of Gov. Sarah Palin hits the courtroom this week.

The lawyer representing five Republican lawmakers who filed the case says he may try to put the state-hired investigator -- or Anchorage Democratic Sen. Hollis French, who is overseeing the investigation -- on the witness stand.

A Superior Court judge on Monday combined the case with a similar lawsuit filed by the attorney general. Both suits argue the legislature doesn't have the authority to investigate Palin.

The first hearing is set for Thursday.

"It complicates matters a little bit, but it's fine," said Peter Maassen, who represents French and the Legislative Council.

Also Monday, a new judge stepped in.

Judge Stephanie Joannides had been scheduled to hear the case filed by Republicans Mike Kelly, Wes Keller, Bob Lynn, Fred Dyson and Tom Wagoner.

She told both sides she knows a state employee linked to the investigation as well as French's wife, a real estate agent who once showed Joannides some property, French said.

The Republican legislators asked for a different judge. They got one, but he soon recused himself, lawyers said.

The case is now scheduled to be heard by Judge Peter Michalski.

The Legislative Council voted in July to investigate Palin's firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.

Kevin Clarkson, a lawyer for the Republican legislators, said he may call as witnesses French or legislators who voted for the investigation but have since changed their minds.

At a legislative committee meeting Friday, the governor's chief of staff and other aides who had been subpoenaed in the investigation didn't show up to testify.

The McCain-Palin campaign, calling itself the Truth Squad, told reporters Monday that the aides couldn't be held in contempt of court because the meeting itself was illegitimate.

"(French) appeared at the Senate Judiciary committee without actually giving notice to the rest of the committee," said campaign spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton, who called the inquiry a "political circus."

Not so, said French.

"That just baffles me because we put the notice out a full week ahead of time," he said.

Along with the Anchorage case, a group of Fairbanks and North Pole residents filed a lawsuit calling the Legislature's investigation unconstitutional.

Asked Monday what role the McCain-Palin campaign played in organizing the various lawsuits, spokesman Ed O'Callaghan said: "They were not initiated by any attorney in the campaign, but we are available if they want to consult with us."

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