The Work

August 29, 2008 5:32 PM

ELECTION 2008: Republican Veep Nominee is No Stranger to Legal Conflict

Posted by Rachel Breitman

The nomination of Alaska's first female governor to the Republican vice presidential ticket raised eyebrows Friday as a Washington insider picked the ultimate legal outsider.

Unlike governors Tim Pawlenty, Charlie Crist, and Mitt Romney--touted as top VP contenders until practically the moment the choice was announced--Palin did not attend law school. The former journalist, mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and Miss Alaska Pageant finalist has made friends as well as enemies in the legal community on issues ranging from natural gas production, gun control, and Alaskan government and family scandals.

After her upset victory in the 2006 Republican primary against then-Governor Frank Murkowski, Palin  turned her back on big oil companies and their lawyers by thwarting their control of the planned Alaskan natural gas pipeline.

Palin signed a bill Wednesday authorizing Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. to build the $27 billion pipeline. BP p.l.c., and ConocoPhillips had a competing plan. The companies, along with Exxon Mobil Corporation, had been favored by Murkowski for the project.

Greenberg Traurig advised Palin on the TransCanada deal. "The prior plan was perceived as a sell-out to the big oil companies," says Ken Minesinger, co-chair of the energy and natural resources practice group in Washington, D.C.; the group had counseled Alaska's legislature on energy issues during Murkowski's term and was hired by Palin in 2007, replacing Morrison & Foerster. Minesinger's team included Allan Van Fleet in the Houston office and Donald Shepler in D.C.

Spencer Hosie, a partner at Hosie Rice in San Francisco, also counseled Palin's administration on the deal.

"It was a refreshingly bipartisan plan," says Hosie, a Democrat who has previously sued oil companies like Exxon and Chevron U.S.A. Inc. on issues ranging from fraud to breach of contract. "I have seen her go toe-to-toe with the oil industry in a way that a lot of Democratic governors are afraid to do for being viewed as anti-business."

TransCanada  was represented by J. Curtis Moffatt and Thomas Roberts at Van Ness Feldman in Washington.

The plan might not endear the new nominee to lawyers for the big oil companies. A Sullivan & Cromwell partner who has advised the sponsors of BritishPetrolium Exploration Alaska, Inc., ConocoPhillips Alaska, Inc., and ExxonMobil Alaska Productions declined to comment on the TransCanada deal or on Palin's nomination. BP also turned to lawyers from JonesDay on the matter.

Palin has a history of making legal waves in political squabbles with Republican leaders from Alaska and through her own family matters.

In 2004 she resigned in protest from her position as ethics commissioner of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission when fellow commissioner and then-Republican party chairman, Randy Ruedrich used his office to do party work on public time. Palin filed a complaint against Ruedrich with the commission; she was represented by Wayne Ross, a partner at the Law offices of Ross & Miner in Anchorage.

"Afterwards, Sarah's supporters were taunted at a Republican party picnic," Ross, a former vice president of the NRA and an Alaska gubernatorial candidate in 2002, tells The AmLaw Daily. "But she wasn't afraid to stand up to them. She's a gutsy gal."

That gutsiness has landed her in an Alaskan ethics investigation of her own. In July Palin fired a former department of public safety commissioner who had refused to fire her brother-in-law, a state troop who recently was enmeshed in  an ugly divorce and custody battle with Palin's sister. Wayne Ross, who is representing a member of Palin's administration in that investigation, declined to comment on the matter.

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Can't anybody see that Palin is only the latest reactionary distraction? Let's just keep our eyes on the prize and focus on beating McCain because he is bad for the country.

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