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Alaska A.G. Candidate Sails Through Final Confirmation Hearing

March 14, 2012|By Dan Fiorucci | Channel 2 News

JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska's Acting Attorney General is now one big step closer to being the state's official attorney general.

On Wednesday, 59-year-old Mike Geraghty gave testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Juneau. Afterwards, the Chairman of the Committee -- Senator Hollis French (D) Anchorage -- said that though he didn't agree with everything that Geraghty said, he did feel the candidate was well-informed on a mind-boggling variety of Alaska legal issues.

Being attorney general of this state seems to require an unusually wide variety of legal talents. During 40 minutes of questioning, Geraghty was asked about topics ranging from domestic violence, to oil leases, to native courts in rural areas to the Endangered Species Act.

On that final subject, Geraghty is concerned that the federal government -- when it lists a species as endangered -- may be infringing on Alaska's rights to commercial development without having sufficient evidence.

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For example, the Steller Sea Lion lives off the southern coast of Alaska. It is officially listed as "threatened" by the federal government. If it becomes officially listed as "endangered", then some areas of the Alaska coast could become off-limits to fishermen. Geraghty says that such designations are sometimes based on computer-modelling which may be faulty. Therefore, he says, Alaska's attorney general has a right to challenge them.

Rick Steiner, a prominent conservationist in Anchorage, dismissed Geraghty's arguments about challenging some designations made under the Endangered Species Act. In a phone interview, Steiner told KTUU-TV, "The E.S.A listings are a very rigorous process." He went on to say, "Alaska needs to stop pretending that endangered species are irrelevant." Steiner said he couldn't think of a single instance in Alaska where commercial development had been prohibited because of the Endangered Species Act.

Another topic came up before the Judiciary Committee. And it dealt with a more traditonal-crime fighting topic: domestic violence, which is rampant in our state. Geraghty told the committees that the Parnell Administration has vastly stepped-up prosecution of such cases. The Acting Attorney General was later complemented by the Judiciary committee for the administration's efforts to stem domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska.

With regard to Native Courts in rural areas, Geraghty said this is a difficult issue. In some remote areas, there are no state institutions at all -- not even state troopers. On the matter of tribal courts Geraghty told the committee, "The tribal members -- the people who *live* in these communities -- are guaranteed rights under our constitution. Right now tribal courts and the state courts have concurrent jurisdiction, there's no "Indian Country" -- nor do I think we want to go *back* to that."

And finally there's the matter of oil leases. State Senator Bill Wielechowski (D) Anchorage was clearly concerned that in the state of Alaska, oil companies are -- all too often -- merely sitting on their leases. Wielechowski said that up to 25 percent of the land now leased to oil companies is not being drilled for commercial prodcution, even though state contracts require it. Wielechowski cited Point Thomson -- which has been described as the largest undeveloped oil and gas lease anywhere in the country. Point Thomson holds an estimated 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and perhaps 200 million barrels of liquid hydrocarbons. Yet, the state of Alaska has been in court for 5 years, trying to get Exxon to develop it.

Here, Geraghty said, the state could not "litigate its way into prosperity." He said that the best way to deal with the problem is to write clearer leases -- and he assured committee members he would work with lawmakers to fashion such leases.

In the end, members of the committee seemed satisfied. They voted to put Geraghty's nomination before a joint session of the legislature next month. Senator French says Geraghty is likely to become the state's official attorney general before the end of the session.

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