Judge council gets earful

Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2000

"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all," might apply someplace, but not at Thursday's judicial retention hearing.

There was a steady stream of testimony as 30 participants around the state expressed their views on 32 judges whose names will appear on the November ballot. The hearing, hosted by the Alaska Judicial Council, was broadcast via the Legislative Information Office's teleconference system.

Kenai Peninsula residents from Cooper Landing, Sterling, Kenai and Nikiski pushed the four-minute testimony limit to relate personal experiences with Kenai's Superior Court judges Harold M. Brown and Jonathan H. Link.

"There is a definite prejudice against people in (Link and Brown's) court acting pro se," Steven Frederick said.

Pro se is the Latin expression for a defendant who acts as his or her own attorney. He also cited incidents of being given inadequate advance notice of court actions, insufficient opportunities to find legal assistance and of being denied the right to call witnesses in his behalf.

Nathan Kiel testified about the devastating negative impact on his family caused by Link's handling of a child custody case. According to Kiel, that case has been appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Roxanne Samskar gave an emotional testimony concerning legal actions permitted by Brown and Link that she said resulted in her husband being placed in prison.

"I can't believe you let this stuff go on," she told the council.

Seymour Mills, Gerald L. McQueen and Ed Martin Jr.'s testimony targeted all Alaska judges. They spoke about a number of issues, including incorrect commissions.

"We don't have law operating today," Mills said.

"What we have is anarchy," McQueen said. "How long will we continue to cooperate?"

Their comments were met with applause and added heat to an already hot topic that ignited April 26, when Ralph Winterrowd delivered three boxes containing 30 "Articles of Impeachment" against judges to the Alaska State Senate. The boxes were passed to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which requested a review of the materials by legislative legal staff. According to the review done by Ted Popely, Winterrowd based his requests for impeachment on his belief that:

n The judicial oath of office does not comply with the oath prescribed by the state constitution;

n The oaths were improperly administered;

n Judges have entered into their duties without a proper civil commission;

n Judges do not possess a license to practice law in the state;

n Judges cannot demonstrate they are citizens of the United States and the state of Alaska;

n Several state courts do not officially exist;

n Courts have usurped legislative authority;

n It is unconstitutional for Alaska judges to also be members of the Alaska Bar;

n The judges listed are not properly bonded;

n None of our state laws are valid;

n Judges are neither neutral nor detached officials; and

n State courts exercise no jurisdiction and are, therefore, invalid.

"The 30 Judicial Articles of Impeachment referred to the committee represents one of the most serious and weighty matters ever considered by Senate Judiciary Committee in the history of this state," wrote committee co-chair Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, in a May 2 letter to Senate President Drue Pearce, R-Anchorage. "Majority council has reviewed the allegations and has stated that they are groundless and appear to be based on the technical or procedural facets of judicial office."

The letter went on to state that the committee has requested further legal analysis as a "first step in determining whether or not there is justification in moving forward with these matters."

Thursday's teleconference is only one avenue used by Alaska Judicial Council to evaluate Alaska's judges. The council also gathers feedback from law enforcement personnel, social workers, jurors, court employees, attorneys and judges.

The information will be examined at the council's Ketchikan meeting in mid-June. After that time, the comments will be available on the council's Web site at http://www.ajc.state.ak.us and published in the voter pamphlet distributed prior to the November election.

Results of 1998 evaluations and elections also can be found on the council's Web site.

Anyone wishing to submit comments in writing can do so by mailing them to the Alaska Judicial Council, 1029 W. Third Ave., Suite 201, Anchorage, AK 99501.

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