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Commission holds hearing on conduct of judge who jailed witness

Posted: Wednesday, September 13, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A former Alaska Supreme Court justice testified Tuesday that Bethel Judge Dale Curda was simply trying to do the right thing when he jailed a witness in a criminal case to ensure that she remained sober.

Edmond Burke, who served for 18 years on the state's highest court, testified on Tuesday as an expert witness during the second day of an Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct hearing regarding the allegations against Curda.

The Superior Court judge is accused of violating state law and judicial code by improperly jailing the witness, meeting with the prosecutor without the defense attorney present, and failing to advise the jailed witness that she had a right to an attorney or to present evidence in her defense.

''He was faithful to the law as he understood it at the time,'' Burke told the commission of judges, lawyers and private citizens gathered in an Anchorage courtroom.

The complaint against Curda stems from the 1995 criminal trial of Wilfred Raphael, a man accused of assaulting and kidnapping a woman he lived with. The prosecutor told Curda, without the defense attorney being present, that the woman was intoxicated and should be jailed until she testified, according to court documents. Curda jailed the woman, who was flown with her children to Bethel so she could testify, and placed her children in protective custody.

The Supreme Court reversed Raphael's conviction and found that Curda's decision to jail the woman without allowing her to contest his ruling tainted her testimony because she could have felt coerced.

Joseph Wrona, the prosecutor in the case, testified by telephone from California on Tuesday. He said he was concerned about the woman's drinking.

Wrona asked Curda to jail the woman because she didn't have any relatives to stay with, and continued to drink despite being instructed not to, he said. Wrona acknowledged that even though she was drinking, she was not committing any crimes.

During Tuesday's hearing, Jonathan Katcher, Curda's attorney, asked Burke to give his opinion on whether Curda violated judicial conduct rules and state law. Burke testified that Curda's mistake was a misperception of the law, and that the Supreme Court, when it reversed Raphael's conviction, disciplined him for that.

Curda's hearing is scheduled to continue today. Following more witness testimony and closing arguments, the commission will make a recommendation that will be sent to the Alaska Supreme Court. The commission could recommend sanctions ranging from a public reprimand to removing Curda from the bench, according to Marla Greenstein, the commission's executive director.

''If the commission will decide to discipline, it ought to be minimal and private,'' Burke said.



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