Colleen Libbey, after 11 years working on one of the most complex and high-profile cases in the state of Alaska, has been removed from the case without warning.
This alteration in counsel, which the Department of Administration has attributed to budget cuts, comes deep in the midst of disovery, and days before Eugene vent’s scheduled deposition.
When the public defender’s office is too busy, conflicted, or otherwise engaged, the Office of Special Advocacy regularly assigns the work to private defense attorneys. It is a basic tenet of our justice system, so much so that it is incorporated into the Miranda rights…”If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you….” Colleen Libbey was assigned to Eugene Vent as a court appointed attorney.
Vent, the only one of the Fairbanks Four who had an ongoing active appeal at the time of the September 2013 Innocence Project filing, has had the same attorney since 2004. The litigation has dragged on these eleven years primarily because of delays and appeals within the system, and in part because of the complexity of the case.
When the Alaska Innocence Project filed their motion for post-conviction relief, the State immediately asked for an extension of just over seven months simply to review the case. By the time the case reaches court for the evidentiary hearing the original motion will be more than two years old. Although we have consistently found these extensions and delays to be extravagant, they are an appropriate measure for what kind of time the State of Alaska has determined is necessary for an attorney to prepare for even a singular action on the case. Now, days before he was scheduled to be deposed, and a handful of months before the evidentiary hearing, the State of Alaska has terminated Vent’s attorney.
The impossible task of preparing for a case in which the other attorneys have required years to gain familiarity is now left to Whitney Glover. Glover is a Office of Special Advocacy attorney, employed by the State of Alaska. Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman, in an interview with journalist Brian O’Donoghue, commented that Vent’s new attorney Whitney Glover currently has upwards of twenty other PCR actions pending and has repeatedly filed in other cases indicated that her “docket is so full she may not be able to meet deadlines.”
It is not uncommon for a public attorney to have an extraordinarily high caseload, and it is likely that Glover is indeed coping with a full docket, to which one of the most significant cases in Alaskan history was just hurriedly added.
It is impossible to know the motivations of the individuals who made the decision to remove Eugene Vent’s attorney from this case. The timing is so poor that it is difficult not to see the removal as strategic.
Other recent moves by the State seem equally strategic. The witness lists, for example. The State of Alaska did not include any information or clue as to the nature of the testimony of the sprawling list of witnesses they named in discovery. A move like this, as small as it may seem, is impactful. That means the Alaska Innocence Project, a tiny nonprofit with one attorney and limited funds, will have to investigate each and every name on that list just to know what the person may testify to. MY name, among other names, made that list. Right next to the kitchen sink….
Sometimes, the appearance of indiscretion is as good as the real thing. The State insists this is all a clean, above-board search for justice. Yet, it certainly seems like something else.
On this blog, we often refer simply to the State of Alaska. The state is, of course, composed of many branches, departments, task forces, offices, etc. That said, the State of Alaska is indeed an entity. State monies and priorities are delegated, and all of these many branches belong to the same tree. The State of Alaska through the actions of its many agents and agencies is engaging in a series of actions and deceptions which, if taken at face value, at best seem incompetent or reckless. If considered as a whole they seem strategic.
The State of Alaska was eager to share this figure as justification for the decision – in the eleven years that Colleen Libbey served as Eugene Vent’s counsel, Alaska spent $104,000.00 on his attorney. Roughly $25.00 per day that she worked on the case. Here is a figure they are not so eager to share – by the time the evidentiary hearing begins this October, the State of Alaska will have spent $896,400.00 housing him as an innocent man in prison. They will have spent about $3,585,600.00 incarcerating all four.*
As menacing as the incarceration figure is, there is another dollar amount we believe will be much higher. The figure that we would love to see, and one the State of Alaska has refused to share, is the total cost of the prosecution of the Fairbanks Four.
The State of Alaska has spent millions of dollars prosecuting, incarcerating, and fighting the release of Eugene Vent, yet suddenly cannot afford for him to have an adequately prepared attorney.
Whitney Glover, Vent’s new attorney, deserves as much support and votes of confidence as she can get. Luckily for her, she is inheriting a lot of quality evidence, and above all will find herself fighting for the truth. There have been many moments over the last eighteen years where those close to the case and the four men themselves have come close to feeling defeated. It is not going to happen, no matter the obstacle, it can and will be overcome. We have learned that over and over – we have been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
Colleen Libbey – thank you, thank you, thank you for eleven years of work on a hard case you surely deserved to see come to completion under your watch. We appreciate every moment you gave.
Whitney Glover – we believe there is a rhyme and a reason to all things, and a higher purpose in this story. Congratulations on being the person our maker selected for the job, you must be the one meant for it. Fate brought you here, so it is here you belong. Welcome!
*Costs of incarceration found HERE