Critics Praise Lawyer Driving Controversial Palin Probe

Former governor says, "He'll do a good job."

ByJustin Rood
September 24, 2008, 10:22 AM

September 24, 2008— -- Even while critics slam a controversial probe into Gov. Sarah Palin, those who know the investigator at its helm have good words for him.

"He's very solid. He'll do a good job," said former Alaska Democratic governor Tony Knowles, referring to Tim Petumenos, the lawyer hired earlier this month by the state Personnel Board. The panel asked him to investigate whether Palin ran afoul of state ethics rules in what critics allege was a personal vendetta against her sister's ex-husband, a state trooper.

Knowles was less sanguine about Petumenos' investigation seeing the light of day anytime soon. "The personnel board would usually take two or three months to take a look at this," he said. "Nothing about the complaints are made public until there is a final report, and even that may not be made public."

Petumenos, a lawyer for the Anchorage-based firm Birch Horton Bittner & Cherot, did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Petumenos is also believed to be investigating an ethics complaint filed by the trooper's union against Palin, alleging she improperly accessed the personnel file belonging to the trooper, Mike Wooten. He also appears to be investigating a complaint filed by a private citizen, Andree McLeod, alleging Palin bent state personnel rules to employ one of her campaign supporters.

McLeod confirmed she met with Petumenos Tuesday to discuss her complaint; the union confirmed it had received a letter from the lawyer identifying himself as the investigator for their case.

The Personnel Board became involved in probing the scandal now known as "Troopergate" after Palin herself filed a complaint with them in September on the matter.

More than two months earlier, the state Legislature had begun a probe into Troopergate. Palin at first agreed to cooperate with their probe, but shortly after joining the GOP ticket began criticizing the investigation as politically biased and unconstitutional.

Palin filed the complaint with the personnel board to underscore her argument that the panel was the proper venue to investigate her. She subsequently filed a motion with the board arguing that an investigation was unwarranted, although this week the McCain-Palin campaign confirmed she is cooperating with Petumenos' probe.

The McCain-Palin campaign emphasizes that Palin waived her rights to confidentiality when she filed her complaint. But spokesman Taylor Griffin said Tuesday that it would not discuss what it knows of the probe because Petumenos had asked Palin and the campaign not to discuss the matter with reporters.

At the heart of Troopergate is the allegation Palin fired her former Public Safety Commissioner, Walt Monegan, because he would not cooperate with her efforts against Wooten.

Monegan's lawyer, Jeff Feldman, confirmed Tuesday his client met with Petumenos for about three hours. Monegan "intends to provide whatever assistance and information would be helpful," said Feldman. "He has done that and will continue to do that." Feldman said he had both worked with and argued against Petumenos in the past and respected his work.

Petumenos is no stranger to investigating public officials. In 1982, as an Alaska state prosecutor, Petumenos won a conviction against former Alaska state senator George Hohman for trying to arrange a bribery deal which hinged on the state purchasing two aircraft from a Canadian manufacturer.

Petumenos' firm has a history with Palin: in 2002, it handled a $15 million bond issue for the town of Wasilla to build a multimillion-dollar hockey complex. Palin, then mayor of the town, championed the project and the bond issue.

Meanwhile, state Democrats charge that the Personnel Board can't be trusted with an investigation because it is weighted with political supporters of Palin's.

"One donated to her campaign, one was appointed by her," argued State Sen. Bill Wielechowski of Anchorage. "It's stocked with people she appointed or supported her. . . I don't have a high degree of confidence in what they will issue."

Only one of the board's three members is a registered Republican, according to the state Board of Elections. The other two are undeclared. All three were initially appointed by former Republican governor Frank Murkowski; one has since been re-appointed by Palin. None of the board members responded to requests for comment.

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