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Governor names new attorney general, introduces new commissioners

 Jahna Lindemuth. State of Alaska image.
Jahna Lindemuth. State of Alaska image. (KTUU)
Published: Jun. 28, 2016 at 1:47 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU)

Jahna Lindemuth on Tuesday was named Alaska's attorney general.

The announcement, made by the governor during a news conference in his Anchorage offices, comes just a week after Craig Richards resigned the post saying he wanted to focus on his family.

Walker also seized the moment to introduce three other recently appointed commissioners, who were named as the governor nears the midway point of his four-year term.

Lindemuth is currently a partner at Dorsey & Whitney, LLP, serving as head of the firm’s Anchorage office. She landed in the public spotlight for her role defending the so-called 'Fairbanks Four' in a case that led to the exoneration of four men who were convicted of murder.

But it was Lindemuth's experience in complex commercial litigation that caught Gov. Bill Walker's attention, he said, and his impression after vetting her as an applicant for a vacant state Supreme Court seat.

"Born and raised in Anchorage, Lindemuth brings extensive experience in complex commercial litigation, appeals to the Alaska Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and administrative management to her new role at Department of Law," the governor wrote in a news release.

The governor explained his quick hiring decision to replace the state's top attorney: "Many people in my cabinet are people that never applied, people that I got to know one way or another and thought they would be a good addition to the cabinet," Walker said. "When I got to know Jahna through the Supreme Court nomination process, I knew she would be a good fit for our administration."

The governor also introduced three other recently introduced commissioners: Andy Mack of the Department of Natural Resources, Walt Monegan of the Department of Public Safety, and Michael Johnson of the Education Department.

Mack was already working in the governor's office as a contractor and simultaneously as managing director of the private equity firm Pt Capital, which holds an array of Arctic investments. Mack has extensive experience in North Slope resource development project and replaces Marty Rutherford who was acting as commissioner and announced her retirement last week.

The change comes as the state is looking at taking a bigger stake in the Alaska LNG Project, a proposed gasline that would connect North Slope reserves to market but is projected to cost $45 billion to $65 billion.

BP, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil are currently equal partners with the state-owned Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, but AGDC's executive director recently said commitment from the industry partners to move the project forward on schedule may be weakening.

Front-end engineering and design is scheduled to begin next year, but that requires a commitment of $500 million apiece from each of the AKLNG partners.

While Pt Capital has expressed interest in investing in companies that build infrastructure for oil, gas, and mining exploration and production, the governor says there is no conflict of interest presented by having Mack lead the Department of Natural Resources.

"Those can all be worked out," Walker said of potential conflicts created by Mack's professional relationships. "And again, the lead on the (Alaska LNG) Project is AGDC ... so I'm not concerned about any potential problems there."

"Frankly, if you look at what Pt (Capital) -- the company I've leaving -- is doing, it's trying to bring greater investment into Alaska," Mack added. "I think that is something that we should be doing as a state, but as far as any conflict, I don't think there is one."

Education Commissioner Michael Johnson, recently selected for the job by the statewide school board, and Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan on Tuesday were also publicly introduced by Walker for the first time.