September 10, 2008
(CNN) -- An Alaska judge warned Gov. Sarah Palin's family against trying to get her then-brother-in-law fired, according to court records.
That warning came long before the controversy over her dismissal of the brother-in-law's boss, the state's public safety commissioner, records show.
Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president, is battling allegations she and her advisers pressured Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan to fire her sister's husband, State Trooper Mike Wooten.
Palin's sister, Molly McCann, and Wooten were in the process of getting a divorce when the judge hearing the couple's case said McCann's family appeared to be putting Wooten's job at risk at a time when he would be required to pay child support.
"It appears for the world that Ms. McCann and her family have decided to take after the guy's livelihood, that whatever who did what to whom has overridden good judgment," Superior Court Judge John Suddock said during an October 2005 hearing. "Aesop told us not to slay the goose that lays the golden egg. For whatever reason, people are trying to slay the goose here, and it tends to diminish his earning capacity."
At the time, Palin was a private citizen and would not become governor until 2006. In complaints filed with the state police, she and other relatives had accused Wooten of threatening her family during the divorce.
Suddock was in the process of settling the couple's property and child-support arrangements in the 2005 hearing. The judge said his decision might have been different had Wooten's continued employment with the state police been more certain.
"The plaintiff's table has created a situation where that is a very fragile outcome," he said.
Wooten's union representative testified that the trooper was the subject of a "constant stream" of complaints from his ex-wife's family. "If things don't change, Mike's career is in jeopardy," the union rep said.
"My advice to Mike was to find another job," said John Cyr, now executive director of the Public Safety Employees Association. "I think he needs, career-wise, to look for work elsewhere."
CNN obtained audio recordings of the hearing from the court clerk's office in Anchorage, Alaska. Roberta Erwin, the attorney who represented McCann, declined comment on the case Wednesday, and other representatives of the governor did not immediately return phone calls.
Wooten was suspended for five days in March 2006, after state police commanders determined he had used a Taser on his 10-year-old stepson "in a training capacity," drove his patrol car while drinking beer and illegally shot a moose using his wife's hunting permit.
In a February 2008 hearing over new custody issues, Wooten briefly complained that "disparagement" by his ex-wife's family was continuing.
Complaints about Wooten from Palin and her family have been under scrutiny since Gov. Palin's July firing of Monegan, whose duties included management of the state police force. After his dismissal, Monegan said he was fired because he refused to succumb to pressure from the governor's office to fire Wooten, and his allegations have led to an investigation by the state Legislature.
Palin has denied any wrongdoing, saying the commissioner was removed because of disagreements over budget issues. Her attorneys have called Wooten a "rogue trooper" and said no one in the governor's family knew of his suspension until after Monegan's dismissal.
Spokesmen for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign have said the legislative probe has become a "political circus" since McCain tapped Palin as his running mate in August.
Palin originally pledged to cooperate with the investigation and disclosed that members of her administration had contacted state police officials nearly two dozen times to discuss Wooten. But last week, she asked the state personnel board to conduct its own probe, and a string of witnesses has failed to show up at scheduled depositions with the investigator hired by the Legislature.
Last week, Cyr's union filed its own complaint against Palin and top aides, accusing them of improperly attempting to use confidential information from Wooten's personnel files against him. The McCain campaign says Wooten agreed to release his files during the divorce proceedings, and the information was in the public domain.