JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska's new attorney general said he will review issues related to the Alaska National Guard, including ensuring that proper prosecutions were brought for wrongful behavior.
Craig Richards said part of that review will include whether he believes a special prosecutor should be brought in to handle the investigation.
"You start by reviewing the material that's available both within the department and without and talking to people that have handled it — and that will lead to a decision about whether it makes sense to bring in a special prosecutor to focus on any of the guard issues, you know, full time basically," he said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.
Problems in the National Guard cast a shadow of the recent election for governor, with critics questioning the handling of allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct within the guard by then-Gov. Sean Parnell. A report by the National Guard Bureau's Office of Complex Investigations released in September found that victims lacked confidence in the command structure and led to the ouster of Thomas Katkus as adjutant general.
Parnell said he acted on every allegation brought to him. Media organizations sued for records related to the administration's response to guard-related concerns, and Richards said he would review its release of public records to make sure it was done diligently.
Richards, 39, is the former law partner of Gov. Bill Walker, who defeated Parnell and took office Monday. Walker last week announced Richards as his pick to replace Michael Geraghty as attorney general. The appointment must be approved by lawmakers.
Richards was Walker's first choice for the job, in part because Richards isn't a "yes" man and isn't afraid to push back against Walker, said Grace Jang, the governor's spokeswoman. Richards did not seek out the job and was surprised when Walker asked him, she said.
Richards said he's excited.
"I mean, if you're a law nerd, there couldn't be a more fun job," he said. "You get to jump into the biggest issues facing the state of Alaska, which is a very honorable, great opportunity."
Richards' legal experience includes areas of oil and gas and taxation. He was involved in long-running litigation by municipalities over the assessment of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline system.
He is getting up to speed on legal issues associated with the liquefied natural gas project the state is pursuing with oil and gas and pipeline companies, Richards said.
He received his first briefing Wednesday on the case challenging Alaska's ban on gay marriage, Richards said. Voters in 1998 approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. But a federal judge in October struck down the ban.
The state will have to decide whether to pursue further appeals.
Richards said he understands the issues from the state's perspective. But he had not had an opportunity to look at it from the federal constitutional perspective, including how courts have interpreted the application of equal-protection and due-process clauses to same-sex marriage.
While courts around the country have struck down bans similar to those of Alaska, a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld bans in four states.
During the campaign, Walker said that as governor he would not pursue costly litigation with little chance of success, even though he personally believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. His spokeswoman said by email Wednesday that the 6th Circuit decision made the issue more complicated.
Walker, in a statement, said he is sworn to uphold the constitutions of both the state and the U.S. and would seek the advice of the Department of Law on whether to maintain the appeal. He said he would weigh the costs of further litigation against the likelihood of success.