Judicial panel recommends judge be disciplined for jailing witness

Posted: Wednesday, October 04, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended Tuesday that the state Supreme Court publicly reprimand a state court judge who jailed a witness to keep her sober.

But the panel was sharply divided on the issue.

Three of the eight commission members felt Alaska Superior Court Judge Dale Curda should not be disciplined and the five who felt Curda should be disciplined were divided over whether it should be a public or a private reprimand.

The complaint against Curda stemmed from his actions during the 1995 trial of Wilfred Raphael, who was accused of kidnapping and assaulting Irene Wilde, with whom he lived in the village of Sheldon Point.

The prosecutor in the case convinced Curda that the woman was intoxicated and should be jailed to ensure that she would be sober enough to testify during the trial. Wilde was jailed for three days and her children were placed in state custody.

''It is not an overstatement to say that, for the remainder of the proceedings, the constitutions of the State of Alaska and the United States, and due process of law as we know it, ceased to exist,'' wrote commission chairman Jeffrey Feldman in the 53-page decision issued Tuesday.

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

A majority of commission members found that Curda violated state and federal laws and court rules for improperly jailing Wilde, meeting with the prosecutor without the defense attorney present and failing to advise the witness of her rights to contest his decision.

In his conclusion, Feldman wrote: ''It is undeniably true that the administration of justice in Bethel poses challenges not presented in urban areas of Alaska. But it also is undeniably true that the rule of law and standards for justice are as precious and must be safeguarded as carefully in Bethel as they are in Anchorage.''

Curda has 30 days to file a petition with the state Supreme Court to modify or reject the commission's recommendations, said Marla Greenstein, executive director of the commission.

Feldman called on the Alaska Supreme Court to issue a public reprimand, arguing that a private reprimand would minimize the seriousness of Curda's misconduct. Commission members Sharon Nahorney and Ethel Staton agreed with Feldman.

Commissioners Judge Elaine Andrews and Judge Natalie Finn argued that Curda should be privately reprimanded. In her dissent, Andrews wrote that Curda's actions are not so egregious as to constitute misconduct of the most serious nature. She said a private sanction would serve as acknowledgment that Curda lacked malicious intent or willful disregard of the law.

Andrews argued Curda has already been rebuked by both the Alaska Court of Appeals and the Alaska Supreme Court.

Commissioners Judge Charles Pengilly, Dianne Brown and Arthur Peterson argued Curda should be sanctioned privately and minimally, if at all.

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