A single central Kenai Peninsula judge will appear on Tuesday’s general election ballot.
Superior Court Judge Charles Huguelet is standing for retention. Voters retained Huguelet in his position in 2006.
The Alaska Judicial Council, a citizens’ commission established by the state’s constitution, is required to evaluate judges’ performances. The council then recommends to voters whether the judges on the ballot should remain in their positions.
The council unanimously recommends that the public vote for Huguelet’s retention. The judge received higher marks for his present term from all five groups who were surveyed about his performance.
According to a council questionnaire, Huguelet’s workload is almost evenly split between civil and criminal cases. The judge, who also has a military background, noted personal growth during his present term in the questionnaire. He has worked on a few high-profile cases, including two murder cases in which he accepted plea agreements.
Former Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed Huguelet on Sept. 2, 2003. Huguelet’s background includes legal work Outside and in Anchorage. He worked for the Alaska Department of Law’s Oil, Gas & Mining Section, representing and advising the Department of Natural Resources.
Huguelet is an officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve; he served two tours in Iraq. Working within Iraq’s damaged justice system reinforced the importance of a functioning judiciary back home, he wrote in the questionnaire.
“My experience working with corrupt cops and judges who have to worry about being murdered for their decisions has strengthened my belief in the absolute necessity of an independent judiciary and a society governed by the rule of law,” he wrote.
A total of 26 judges are eligible to stand for retention during the 2012 election.
Thousands of Alaskans, including peace and probation officers, court employees and social workers were surveyed. The council asked these groups to rate judicial performance on a scale of one to five for the same number of categories, as well as submit comments. The categories are legal ability, impartiality, integrity, temperament and diligence. An average of the categories is calculated for an overall score.
Only attorneys rate judges’ legal ability, however.
Huguelet’s highest marks were given by social workers and court-appointed guardians, as he received a 4.9 overall rating.
In 2008, Huguelet received a 4.6 rating from the same survey group.
Attorneys rated Huguelet’s overall performance at 3.9, the lowest rating out of all the survey groups. This rating is also an increase from the 3.7 the judge received in 2006.
The council uses other methods to evaluate judges. It reviews the ratings and observations of the Alaska Judicial Observers, who are “independent community-based volunteers.” The observers gave Huguelet a rating of 3.23. He received a 3.3 rating from the same group six years ago.
The council takes complaints from the public concerning judges, but is not investigating any complaints against Huguelet.
In addition, the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct investigates ethical complaints concerning judges. By state statute the commission’s complaint process is confidential unless it formally charges a judge with misconduct. Huguelet has never been charged with misconduct, said Marla Greenstein, the commission’s executive director.
The council also measures peremptory challenge rates for each judge. Defendants have the right to a trial before an unbiased judge, which includes the right to stall a trial without proving bias.
During the past six years, Huguelet had an average of 28 challenges per year, which was slightly lower than the average of 31. In 2006, he experienced 111 challenges in criminal cases, almost all coming from the prosecutor.
The pattern suggests, the council wrote, a situation where Huguelet was challenged categorically by the district attorney’s office. By 2007, the situation was resolved and he experienced only one challenge from a prosecutor.
In his self-assessment, Huguelet wrote he worries less about “controlling the courtroom” or establishing strict guidelines and procedures for attorneys.
“I am a much better listener and have strengthened my capacity for seeing beyond emotion, theatrics, and other distractions to find appropriate solutions to legal problems,” he wrote.
Two notable cases the Peninsula Clarion reported during Huguelet’s present term include the Lyle Ludvick and Jesse Gibson trials — both involved deaths. Ludvick, who was charged with killing Brendan McGee, was sentenced to seven years in prison following a plea agreement. Gibson, who pleaded “no contest” to fatally stabbing his brother, was sentenced to five years following a plea agreement.
“I know you’re an honorable man and you know you have to be punished,” Huguelet said during Gibson’s sentencing.
His sentencing remarks match comments written in the self-evaluation. Most defendants in the communities served by the Kenai Courthouse are not hopeless sociopaths, he wrote. Rather, they “tend to be addicts, young men with a few rough edges, and other folks who have made some bad choices.”