PLUS: Did Palin attorney defame an ethics complainant in recent statement?
By Brad Friedman on 7/22/2009, 2:12pm PT  

[Update 7/24/09: I chatted about the issues in this article with noted Mudlflats blogger & Huffington Post contributor AK Muckraker --- an expert on all things Palin --- while Guest Hosting Thursday's Mike Malloy Show. Listen to the interview right here. Select Hour 3 audio archive. Interview begins about 10 minutes into the archive.]

A brief, two paragraph statement [PDF] by the private attorney of Alaska's very-soon-to-be-former Gov. Sarah Palin was posted on the governor's official public state website on Monday.

Attributed to "THOMAS VAN FLEIN --- Personal Attorney for Governor Palin," the statement posted to the Governor's officially run state website at decries the latest ethics complaint filed against Palin --- alleging the improper disclosure of gifts and the receipt of free services --- as an abuse of the state Ethics Act.

That the official state website would be used to publicize the private response of Palin on Monday to another ethics charge is somewhat ironical, given Tuesday's leak of a preliminary independent report [PDF] from a state ethics commission investigator finding "probable cause" that Palin's "official" legal defense fund violated the Ethics Act in that it made use of her "official position for personal gain."

Citing Alaska Statute 39.52.120(a) which states that a "public officer may not use, or attempt to use, an official position for personal gain," the state's independent investigator, Thomas M. Daniel notes that "personal gain" is defined by law as "a benefit to a person's or immediate family member's personal interest or financial interest."

Does the use of the state's website to publicize Palin's personal attorney's response to an official ethics complaint constitute the use of "an official position for personal gain"? Was the complainant allowed to post her attorney's response to the complaint, or to Palin's personal response to it, on the official Alaska state website? Of course not.

Perhaps one more ethics complaint needs to be filed in Alaska before Palin quits her job as Governor this weekend.

We came across Monday's publicly posted private response via a Monday night tweet on Palin's personal Twitter page which linked to it:

Re more frivolous ethics allegations today; shame good law is being abused for politicking. See

7:23 PM Jul 20th from web

But, as still more irony would have it, Palin and/or her attorney may have also committed a legally actionable act of defamation in their response to the leak of yesterday's confidential "probable cause" finding....

In attorney Van Flein's statement responding to the leak of the report, as posted on Palin's Facebook page yesterday, he may have defamed the complainant, Alaska resident Kim Chatman, by declaring, as fact, some action of hers to have been "illegal."

"All options are open in terms of legal remedies," Van Flein threatened, in response to his apparent belief, as ABC News characterized it, that Chatman is the one who leaked the confidential preliminary report. "It is a clear violation of Alaska law that Mr. Daniel explicitly reviewed with Ms. Chatman prior to her illegal actions. We will be contacting the appropriate authorities for review and action."

It's unclear whether Van Flein was asserting that the alleged "illegal action" of Chatman was the leak of the preliminary report, as ABC implies, and, if so, what his evidence is for that. None is given. But he has very clearly stated, as a fact, that Chatman committed "illegal actions."

That is, of course, what Palin, via Van Flein, had inaccurately alleged about Alaska blogger and radio host Shannyn Moore, after she discussed rumors of a coming "iceberg scandal" that might sink the U.S.S. Palin --- as we reported here at the time --- shortly after Palin announced she would be aborting her term as Governor to, apparently, become a celebrity community organizer.

Trouble is, neither Moore, nor anybody else to our knowledge, ever stated that the rumored "iceberg" investigation --- believed to be into whether or not Palin misappropriated funds and/or materials and/or labor from the construction of the Wasilla Sports Complex for use in the construction of her Wasilla home on Lake Lucille, which was built during approximately the same period, as detailed last year by the Village Voice --- was a "fact" (other than the general assertion that it was a fact that local Alaskans had been buzzing about those rumors for several weeks leading up to Palin's surprise resignation announcement).

As Van Flein, who at the time described media reports of those allegations as "actionable," wrote in his July 4th legal threat letter [PDF] in response:

To the extent several websites, most notably liberal Alaska blogger Shannyn Moore, are now claiming as "fact" that Governor Palin resigned because she is "under federal investigation" for embezzlement or other criminal wrongdoing, we will be exploring legal options this week to address such defamation. This is to provide notice to Ms. Moore, and those who re-publish the defamation, such as Huffington Post, MSNBC, the New York Times and The Washington Post, that the Palins will not allow them to propagate defamatory material without answering to this in a court of law.

So while neither Moore, nor any other media that we're aware of, "claim[ed] as 'fact'" that Palin was "under federal investigation," Van Flein, on behalf of Palin, has now stated that a legal complainant, Kim Chatman, committed "illegal actions."

Despite their widely reported threats and attempts at intimidation, as Moore and other local bloggers described it at the time, no lawsuits for "defamation" have yet been filed by the Palin team to date. But it certainly seems that Chatman --- if, in fact, she did not leak the report, or break any other laws --- might well have a very good case of "defamation" to file against Palin at this point.

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