First, let's put up some common definitions and numbers, as also posted on the Wall Street Journal Law Blog:
(1). Sarah Palin's legal fees: Estimated to be above $500,000 in a March 20th Anchorage Daily News article. Neither a more precise figure nor a more current estimated figure have been provided since that time.
(2). Direct costs of the ethics complaints investigations: Calculated by the Alaska Personnel Board to be $296,042.58, according to a July 1st Anchorage Daily News article. Itemized by complaint number, but complaint numbers not linked to specific complaint descriptions.
(3). Total estimated costs of the ethics complaints investigations: Governor Palin has suggested that the state may have spent a total of $2 million (including the Personnel Board calculations) overall on aggregate costs relating to the ethics complaints. Her estimate is based on a per-hour calculation reflecting the time spent by state lawyers deciding which public information to release as a result of all public records requests, time spent by governor's office staffers responding to media inquiries about ethics complaints, and time technicians spend on retrieving requested e-mail. The estimate does not include Governor Palin's legal fees.
The problem is not that Sarah Palin cannot get reimbursed, but that she cannot get reimbursed immediately. This requires her to spend her own money if she wants legal representation to help defend against these complex and exacting complaints. These expenses are beyond her ability to bear, based on a total reported family income of $218,041. The two sources of this income are Sarah Palin's reported $131,891 last year, counting her $125,000 salary and expense payments she collects when she’s away from Juneau, and Todd Palin's reported $86,150 from his two jobs as a commercial fisherman and as a BP production operator. Since a person has a right to legal representation in any adversarial process, and since we observe the presumption of innocence in our society, it can be assumed that Sarah Palin incurred this $500,000 debt through no fault of her own.
Palin's attorney Thomas Van Flein explained this issue on a post published by Conservatives4Palin. Here's the key excerpt:
Because an ethics complaint by definition involves an allegation that a public official abused state office by promoting a personal gain over state interests, when such a complaint is filed, the subject of the complaint cannot use state attorneys for their personal defense. Indeed, doing so would likely result in a meritorious ethics complaint. That does not mean the state could not indemnify a state employee after the investigation and results are completed if it is determined that there was no merit to the complaint and the costs were incurred as a result state service. But initially the subject of the complaint, if he or she desires representation, must retain personal counsel. This is all the more imperative for the Governor, where the Attorney General is barred as a matter of law from any involvement in a complaint against the Governor and the matter is handled by an independent Personnel Board and special counsel.
The upshot - Sarah Palin can ultimately get reimbursed, but not until the complaints are adjudicated and only if they're found to be groundless. Meanwhile, what's she supposed to do until that time? Is she supposed to simply refuse to defend herself just because she would incur debt in doing so? That would mean justice would be determined by income rather than by cause. The Alaska Fund Trust was established to help Sarah Palin with her legal fees.
What's worse is the fact that so many of the ethics complaints have been found to be groundless. This strongly implies that the complaints were not filed in order to obtain justice, but merely to throw gobs of mud at the governor in the hopes that some of them would actually stick. Thus the ethics complaint system merely became another form of political warfare. Furthermore, there's strong circumstantial evidence showing that Governor Palin was deliberately and uniquely targeted simply because of her politics. Where were the ethics complaints against Vic Kohring, Pete Kott, Tom Anderson, Gregg Renkes, and Frank Murkowski? I recall none. Yet Palin gets targeted.
It's too bad Sarah Palin found it necessary to resign to escape the chronic harassment, but I can understand her decision. Other governors have resigned in midterm, such as Jon Huntsman Jr. (to become ambassador to China) and Janet Napolitano (to become DHS Secretary), so resigning in midterm is not unprecedented. Sarah Palin's resignation, while disappointing, is honorable.