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The top prosecutor in the Alaska attorney general’s office resigned after a judge ruled that she “outrageously” pursued felony prosecution of a public defender for a traffic accident. Cynthia Cooper, a veteran prosecutor for 20 years in the Alaska Department of Law, resigned on April 11 from her job as deputy attorney general of the criminal division. The resignation came after release of a 53-page ruling by Superior Court Judge Jonathan H. Link that found Cooper and top assistants pursued felony prosecution of Wally Tetlow, an assistant public defender in Anchorage, “because of who Tetlow was, not because of what he did.” Cooper did not respond to a request for comment. In her letter of resignation to Attorney General Bruce M. Botelho, she cited two reasons for quitting: the Tetlow case and criticism of her in another case by a federal judge who heard a motion that Cooper be held in contempt for allegedly ignoring a court order halting enforcement of Alaska’s sex-offender registration law. Federal District Judge H. Russel Holland declined to hold Cooper in contempt but wrote that she had made an “untrue statement” in an affidavit explaining her action. Doe III v. Godfrey, No. A02-0014-CV. In her resignation letter to Botelho, Cooper noted that “you have determined the judge would have reached a different conclusion had he listened [to all of the] evidence.” The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled the sex-offender registration statute unconstitutional, but Cooper succeeded in persuading the Supreme Court to review the decision. Regarding the Tetlow case, she wrote, “I did not abuse my authority by charging offenses that are clearly supported by the evidence.” Link wrote in his ruling that the 12-day evidentiary hearing in the Tetlow case revealed that “the animus” between prosecutors and defense attorneys was the root of Cooper’s decision to pursue felony charges against Tetlow after he’d already struck a bargain with local prosecutors to plead to two misdemeanor charges. That animus, he wrote, caused the state “to charge Tetlow for constitutionally impermissible reasons.” The controversy stems from a one-car accident on Aug. 29, 2000. According to court documents, Tetlow crashed into a light pole at an intersection in Anchorage about a block from the home of his passenger, Scott Purden, an investigator for the public defender. The only known injury suffered by either man was an abrasion on Purden’s face caused by the deployment of an airbag. The two men, whom one witness described as “wobbling,” left the scene and walked to Purden’s house. Witnesses called police to the scene and Tetlow reported the accident the next morning via his friend, attorney Randall Patterson. To avoid any appearance of conflict, the Anchorage district attorney’s office transferred the case to the DA’s office in nearby Palmer for evaluation by a prosecutor who had not argued cases against Tetlow. Palmer Assistant District Attorney William Estelle concluded that Tetlow ought to be allowed to plead guilty to two misdemeanors, reckless driving and assault in the fourth degree for Purden’s injury. The “charge bargain” was offered to Tetlow on Dec. 14, 2000, and accepted by him on March 1, 2001. According to Link’s ruling, Tetlow believed the charge bargain was a “done deal” but Cooper, who with her top aides was monitoring the handling of the case, did not. On March 7 she reassigned the case from Palmer to the office of special prosecutions and appeals in the attorney general’s office. Tetlow’s attorney was told that if Tetlow wanted a plea agreement he would have to plead to a felony. “The State has acted outrageously with the intention of intimidating and harming Tetlow individually. In a very real sense this prosecution is spiteful and malicious,” Link wrote. State v. Tetlow, No. 3AN-01-3356 CR.

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