Wednesday, 05 April 2023 09:02

Judge Dismisses Sex Abuse Case Against Alaska’s Former Acting Attorney General


This article was produced for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network in partnership with the Anchorage Daily News. Sign up for Dispatches to get stories like this one as soon as they are published.

An Alaska Superior Court judge has dismissed a sex abuse case against former acting state Attorney General Clyde “Ed” Sniffen. In an order Friday, Judge Peter Ramgren sided with Sniffen’s lawyer, who argued too much time had passed for him to be charged with the alleged 1991 crime.

A grand jury indicted Sniffen in September on three counts of sexual abuse of a minor by an authority figure, based on his alleged sexual relationship with a then-17-year-old student. Sniffen was 27 at the time and a coach for the West Anchorage High School girls’ mock trial team.

While Alaska state law currently has no statute of limitations for felony sexual abuse of a minor, Ramgren dismissed the charge based on the argument that the law was different in 1991, when a five-year statute of limitations was in place.

The alleged victim, Nikki Dougherty White, learned of the dismissal Saturday morning by email. She called the ruling a “huge disappointment.”

“A huge sense of being let down by the court system,” she said.

White said that despite the dismissal, she does not regret going public with her story in January 2021, after she learned Sniffen had been appointed attorney general by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Sniffen resigned as the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica prepared to publish an article about the allegations.

“Because the truth is important. And because Alaska has too long been a place that favors abusers, that does not provide a safe space for victims, for women, for girls. For anybody who doesn’t fit, you know, the white male profile,” White said in a phone interview.

“The Alaska judicial system isn’t built for us and it doesn’t protect us,” she said.

Sniffen pleaded not guilty to the charges. He could not be reached for comment Saturday. His attorney, Jeffrey Robinson, was out of state Saturday for a professional obligation and had just received the judge’s order on Saturday afternoon, he wrote in an email.

“I’ve not had any time to review it,” Robinson wrote.

The special prosecutor in the case, Gregg Olson, said Saturday that no decision has been made on whether the state will appeal the order.

Another Superior Court judge, Erin Marston, presided over the case in January when Sniffen’s attorney argued it should be dismissed on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired and that the long delay between the alleged abuse and the filing of charges violated Sniffen’s right to due process.

Marston on Jan. 26 rejected a motion to dismiss the case related to alleged due process violations. Ramgren replaced Marston as the case judge on Feb. 7 due to Marston’s retirement. Ramgren was appointed to the bench in 2019 by Dunleavy.

In his Friday order, Ramgren wrote that a five-year statute of limitations was in place for the crime of sexual abuse of a minor at the time of the alleged offense, May 1991. The Legislature reduced or removed time limits to charge people for certain crimes in 1992 and again in 2001, the judge wrote, but he concluded those changes did not apply to Sniffen’s case.

“The court finds the applicable statutes and legislative history indicate these changes cannot be applied to the alleged offenses,” Ramgren wrote. “For that reason, the statute of limitations governing Mr. Sniffen’s conduct has expired and he cannot be subject to indictment.”

Sniffen led the state Department of Law, as Alaska’s top lawyer and legal adviser to the governor, for roughly five months in 2020 to 2021. His predecessor, Kevin Clarkson, resigned as attorney general when the newsrooms reported Clarkson had sent hundreds of unwanted text messages to a junior colleague.