A legal challenge from a former Haines Borough Assembly candidate that went all the way to the Alaska Supreme Court was decided last week. On Friday, the Supreme Court rejected James Studley’s challenge to certain Alaska Public Office Commission rules. Studley objected to a requirement that he provide real estate clients’ information on disclosure forms.
In 2012, real estate broker Studley ran for Haines Borough Assembly. As a self-employed candidate for public office, he had to fill out a financial disclosure form listing any source of income over $1,000.
But Studley did not provide his real estate clients’ names and payments. He instead gave a general amount of between $20,000-$50,000 earned from real estate sales.
The Alaska Public Offices Commission told Studley that was not sufficient. But he said the reporting requirements conflict with his duty to maintain client confidentiality. He provided some hypothetical examples of how disclosing client information might harm that person. He said the information might, for example, reveal a client is divorcing or filing for bankruptcy.
APOC denied Studley’s blanket exemption request. It said the public’s right to know sources of a candidate’s income outweighed any reason Studley had to keep the details private. APOC fined Studley $175 for the incomplete disclosure.
Studley lost his bid for assembly. But he continued to challenge the APOC regulations.
He appealed the $175 penalty to Superior Court. The court rejected the appeal, saying Studley did not provide sufficient evidence that he should be granted an exemption from providing the client information.
Studley then appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. He said real estate regulations that require a broker not to release confidential information conflict with the disclosure requirements. He went on to argue that that conflict infringed upon his constitutional right of candidacy and the privacy rights of his clients.
The Supreme Court decision was written by Justice Daniel Winfree. Winfree says Studley did not demonstrate he was entitled to an exemption. Winfree writes that the burden of proof was on Studley to show how the disclosures would harm his clients. Providing hypothetical examples was not enough.
In his argument, Studley compared his situation to that of a doctor in a prior court case. Winfree rejects that comparison, saying the physician-client relationship is not like the broker-client relationship. He says disclosure of real estate information is not detrimental in the way that disclosure of medical information may be.
Justice Winfree says Studley’s claim that his clients’ constitutional privacy rights would be violated needs to be backed up by specific information, not by generalized hypotheticals. Winfree says Studley’s argument that his right to privacy was infringed also doesn’t hold up, because the required disclosures are not personal or intimate and by voluntarily running for public office, Studley waived his right to privacy.
Studley did not return calls for comment by deadline for this story. He told the Alaska Dispatch News Friday that the disclosure laws prevent good people from running for office because of responsibilities like protecting client information.
Studley emailed KHNS a statement with his comments on the court decision:
“A broken system, but it is what we have created. We have a system of laws that we should uphold or change.
As a Real Estate Broker I was and still feel obligated to keep all confidential information received from clients (even after any agreement) expires.
Essentially I have given my word to my clients and friends in the form of ethical standards and contracts that I will oblige them by keeping what is shared as private. The State of Alaska also establishes this in the constitution, as citizens we have the right to privacy. The Real Estate Laws in Alaska support this position as well. By law, and ethics my silence is required unless under oath or court order subpoena.
The Alaska Supreme Court ruled that because I did not give the State of Alaska (APOC) specific information for which to claim an exemption that my appeal to the higher court was not with any merit and the court ruled against the arguments that were given. There was much more but this is the crux of their decision.
If I give specific information to anyone (even the government) I have disclosed confidential information. The privacy is gone, my integrity to the client gone as well. Many would not care but there would be a great number that would care if their privacy was violated so what is my word worth?
Here is where the system is broke. A person intent on being dishonest is going to lie or be deceitful regardless, even not disclose the potential conflict of interest should that opportunity occur. And if that person is caught, based on the current judicial system they usually go free or the slap in the hands hardly pays for the loss in public trust or lost funds. The reward then is to lie and be dishonest in hope of not being caught and if your caught the punishment hardly reinstates public trust or fits the criminal act.
A person who has a conflict of interest that has any ethical backbone will state this and remove them selves from the decision making process. Ask the same of a person intent on criminal deceit regarding public trust, their answer would you trust?
I believe my obligation must first rest with the individuals I gave my original promise of confidentiality. Consequently this would prevent me from running for office based on the decision. It has taken three years for the question to go through the court system.
The system is broken as we are only punishing the existing electoral process limiting the selection of possible applicants. Criminals will be deceitful regardless, the punishment should be much more sever than what we have for violations of public trust but usually the slap on the wrist make the act seem worth the effort.
But this is so far from the truth. If you hurt the children of our planet, violate the trust they asked you to protect you are only killing your self.”