Public Encouraged to Participate in Selection of Judges in Alaska

    Public Encouraged to Participate in Selection of Judges in Alaska

    Submitted by Susanne DiPietro

     

    The members of the Alaska Judicial Council encourage and value all input about the qualifications of attorneys who have applied to be judges in Alaska. The Council is responsible to investigate the qualifications of attorneys who have applied to be judges, and to nominate the most qualified to the governor for appointment.

    The current Council members bring a variety of perspectives to their work, residing in urban and rural Alaska. They are attorneys and individuals from all walks of life, including law, nursing, law enforcement, Native health care, and Alaska Native nonprofit management. Under the Constitution, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the seventh Council member and chairs the Council’s meetings, but does not vote except in the unlikely event of a tie.

    Because public input is important to the Council, Alaskans are encouraged to submit comments on judicial applicants at any time by email, letter, and at public hearings (held telephonically so that folks from all over the state can easily participate). Recently, the Council held a public hearing about applicants for a position on the Alaska Court of Appeals. The Council heard from several members of the public, including an individual who requested and received extra time. This individual is claiming the Council is biased because he did not get to talk as long as he wanted. The facts, however, show that the Council’s hearing was both fair and efficient. The Chief Justice relaxed the rules to accommodate this individual. He was given twice as much time to talk as other testifiers, and he also was given latitude to discuss matters off topic of the public hearing. In short, the Chief Justice and the Council heard his oral hearing testimony, reviewed his same testimony submitted in writing, and reviewed numerous previously submitted communications, including a 28-page report.

    The time limit on testimony applied to all the testifiers, and everyone else finished their remarks in the time allotted. The Council’s published Bylaws authorize the Chair to limit public comment as necessary to ensure the efficient conduct of business. This individual was informed in writing before the hearing that the Chair likely would put a time limit on testimony. Further, the Chair announced the time limit at the beginning of the hearing, and explained that the purpose of the hearing was to receive comments about the applicants for the court of appeals position.

    This individual also claims that the Council’s judicial selection process does not involve Tribes. Tribes and Alaska Native organizations are important stakeholders in the judicial selection process, and the Council values their ongoing involvement. The Council’s public outreach includes Tribes that have successfully made their views known by submitting comments on applicants for judicial positions.

    This individual’s main concern is about a criminal case in which a man was convicted by a jury of sex crimes against a child. This individual believes the conviction was flawed, and he has asked Governor Dunleavy and legislators to intervene. The Judicial Council has no authority to review or act on this case, or any other case. The Council’s authority and duty is to nominate individuals who will be fair, compassionate, and professional judges for the people of Alaska, a duty which it is committed to exercising with integrity and care.

    In closing, the Council members would like to thank all the people who sent letters or made testimony at hearings. The information you provided helped them fulfill their duty to nominate the most highly qualified individuals to become judges.

     

    Susanne DiPietro

    Executive Director, Alaska Judicial Council

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