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Workers’ Comp Probe Called For in Alaska’s ‘Troopergate’

September 10, 2008
Related Topics: Workers' Compensation, Miscellaneous Legal Issues, Ethics, Compensation, Latest News
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A union representing state troopers in Alaska has called for a probe into alleged workers’ compensation-related ethics violations by Gov. Sarah Palin’s office and the state’s director of risk management.

According to a letter of complaint by the union, Brad Thompson, director of Alaska’s Department of Administration Division of Risk Management, may have improperly shared information with an official in the governor’s office about a workers’ comp claim filed by a trooper who is Palin’s former brother-in-law.

Allegations that the governor abused her public office by attempting to have trooper Mike Wooten fired have been dubbed “Troopergate” and have drawn international attention since Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain named Palin as his running mate at the Republican National Convention earlier this month.

Alaska’s Legislature is conducting a separate probe into allegations the governor attempted to pressure a former safety commissioner to fire Wooten, who was involved in a divorce with the governor’s sister.

In a September 3 letter to Assistant Attorney General Julie B. Bockmon requesting the ethics-violation probe, the Public Safety Employees Association provides what it says is a transcript of a telephone conversation between Frank Bailey, director of boards and commissions in the governor’s office, and Rodney Dial, a lieutenant in the Alaska Division of State Troopers.

According to the transcript of the February 29 telephone conversation, there had been contact between the governor’s office and Thompson concerning a workers’ comp claim by Wooten. The transcript, however, does not show what information was shared.

The workers’ comp claim has since been resolved, and Wooten returned to work, according to the telephone call transcript. However, the conversation did include some discussion about a possible pre-existing condition that was not revealed by Wooten, and other factors that could affect the claim, according to the transcript.

The union asserts that the telephone conversation occurred after the governor’s office requested a copy of Wooten’s workers’ comp files. The union also states that such activities violate state laws prohibiting disclosure of employee personnel and medical records.

Bailey could not be reached for comment and Thompson did not return a telephone call.

The governor’s office referred calls to Palin’s attorney, Thomas V. Van Flein.

Van Flein said he could not discuss the union’s complaint because under Alaska law, it is confidential even though the union made it public. Van Flein, however, did provide a transcript for a sworn statement he took from Bailey on August 26. In that statement, Bailey said there was no truth to allegations he saw Wooten’s workers’ comp file.

“I have never seen a workers’ comp file, I have never seen a personnel file, I have never seen an employment hiring file on Trooper Wooten,” Bailey said under oath.

Filed by Roberto Ceniceros of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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