The acting attorney general of Alaska has resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct, less than six months after his predecessor stepped down following revelations that he had sent hundreds of text messages to a female state employee, officials said.
The acting attorney general, Ed Sniffen, “has removed himself for consideration as attorney general and will be leaving state service,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska said in a statement on Friday, 11 days after Mr. Dunleavy said he had chosen Mr. Sniffen to serve as the permanent attorney general.
Mr. Sniffen’s resignation came after his predecessor, Kevin G. Clarkson, stepped down in August amid revelations by The Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica that he had sent 558 text messages over 27 days to a female state employee.
Mr. Clarkson, who was married, had written text messages such as “You’re beautiful … sweet dreams,” and, “So what are you doing sweet lady?” Mr. Dunleavy had said that Mr. Clarkson had “admitted to conduct in the workplace that did not live up to our high expectations.”
Mr. Sniffen formally submitted his resignation on Jan. 27 after The Daily News and ProPublica began asking questions about allegations that he had engaged in a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old high school student beginning in 1991, when he was a 27-year-old lawyer and a coach of her school’s mock trial competition team.
The woman, Nikki Dougherty White, now 47, had said the sexual relationship began during a trip to New Orleans for a competition and had continued for about two years in Anchorage, ProPublica and The Daily News reported.
Alaska state law forbids adults from having sex with 17-year-olds while serving in positions of authority as a coach, teacher or counselor.
A special prosecutor with experience in sex crimes, Rachel Gernat, has been appointed by Mr. Sniffen’s replacement, Treg Taylor, to investigate the allegations.
Ms. Gernat said on Wednesday that most sex crimes in Alaska are not subject to a statute of limitations, though it depends on the degree of the offense as well as the date of the crime.
“We have to see what the evidence provides and then compare that with the law,” Ms. Gernat said, adding that her investigation was just beginning.
In a statement on Friday announcing Mr. Sniffen’s departure, Mr. Dunleavy thanked him for his service and wished him well.
Jeff Turner, a spokesman for Mr. Dunleavy, said that when the governor had accepted Mr. Sniffen’s resignation, he was “unaware of the allegations against him.”
As the details became known, the governor directed Mr. Taylor to appoint a special counsel to “investigate possible criminal misconduct by Mr. Sniffen,” Mr. Turner said.
The Alaska Department of Law said that given Mr. Sniffen’s long tenure in the department, Ms. Gernat had been chosen as outside counsel.
Mr. Sniffen had worked for the Alaska Department of Law since 2000, as a senior assistant attorney general in the consumer protection unit and then as a chief assistant attorney general, deputy attorney general, chief of staff and as acting attorney general.
Ms. Gernat was a prosecutor in the Alaska Department of Law’s Criminal Division about 10 years ago, primarily focused on sex crimes, the Law Department said. She also served as chair of the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and had been retained by the Archdiocese of Anchorage to review its records of allegations of child abuse.
“She is now actively working with law enforcement on the investigation,” the Law Department said.
There was no answer on Wednesday at phone numbers listed for Mr. Sniffen. In his resignation letter to Mr. Dunleavy on Jan. 27, Mr. Sniffen did not mention the allegations against him.
“I am honored that you appointed me to be Alaska’s Attorney General, and have appreciated the opportunity to serve as acting attorney general for the last six months,” he said. “After discussions with family, and for personal reasons, I ask to be removed from consideration for the position of attorney general, and offer you my resignation.”
Caitlin Shortell, a lawyer for Ms. White, said Ms. White had decided to come forward after the governor formally chose Mr. Sniffen to serve as attorney general on Jan. 18 and sent his name to the Legislature for confirmation.
“She is the survivor of a crime — of sexual abuse of a minor — and she had to recover and heal from that, and she did,” Ms. Shortell said. “And it was only when she learned that Mr. Sniffen was being named as the top law enforcement officer in the state that she decided to come forward and let it be known what she had experienced.”
Ms. Shortell said Ms. White had no intention of bringing any legal action against Mr. Sniffen but planned to fully cooperate with the authorities and to provide evidence and the names of witnesses to the police and the special prosecutor.
The Daily News and ProPublica said that four of Ms. White’s former high school teammates who had joined her on the trip to New Orleans had corroborated key details of her account. One teammate said Ms. White had confided in her after Ms. White and Mr. Sniffen first had sex at a hotel.
Asked if the sex was consensual, Ms. White told the The Daily News and ProPublica, “Yes, with the caveat that I was drunk. I was 17. And he was in a position of authority.”
Ms. White’s parents, Mike and Mary Dougherty, provided a statement to The Daily News and ProPublica.
“My wife and I agreed to let our then 17-year-old daughter Nikki go on the school trip to New Orleans to participate in the National High School Mock Trial Tournament because we were led to believe that our daughter would be taken care of properly,” it read. “Through his actions, the chaperone, Attorney Ed Sniffen, violated that trust.”
View original Post