Alaskans cast votes on judges in controversial campaigns

Posted: Wednesday, November 08, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaskans were siding with controversial judges in the normally bland judicial retention section of the general election ballot.

With about 80 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday, the majority of voters rejected the message cast by a group of high-profile conservatives who tried to oust an Alaska Supreme Court justice and two Anchorage Superior Court judges for their rulings against laws limiting abortion and banning gay marriage.

The group, Alaskans for Judicial Reform, targeted Supreme Court Justice Dana Fabe, and Superior Court judges Sen Tan and Peter Michalski, calling their decisions assaults on life, marriage, family and democracy.

The group said the three substituted their personal views instead of interpreting the Alaska Constitution.

All three of the judges were holding their own. Tan, however, was winning by a slimmer margin than the others. About 54 percent of voters supported his retention, compared to more than 45 percent who voted against it.

Fabe and Michalski had more comfortable leads. About 57 percent of the votes for each judge were in favor of retention.

Superior Court Judge Mary E. Greene of Fairbanks was barely squeaking by. With 72 percent of precincts reporting, less than 52 percent of the voters sided with Greene, and more than 48 percent voted against her retention.

The Anchorage-based group, Alaska Right to Life, targeted Greene because of her decision that forced the University of Alaska to offer benefits to companions of unmarried employees.

The Anchorage-based group mailed 100,000 postcards to people across the state urging them to remove her from the bench because of her 1995 decision forcing the university to offer the same compensation to unmarried employees that it does married employees.

A less caustic campaign urged the ouster of Superior Court Judge Dale Curda of Bethel. With 72 percent of precincts reporting, more than 57 percent of the voters were supporting Curda's retention.

The Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended a public reprimand for Curda last month, saying he violated state and federal laws by jailing a witness in a criminal case to keep her sober. The Supreme Court reversed the defendant's conviction, finding that Curda's decision to jail the woman tainted her testimony.

The judicial commission's complaint prompted the campaign by Citizens Against Judge Dale Curda.

Like the other 27 judges up for retention this year, Fabe, Tan and Michalski got favorable ratings from the Alaska Judicial Council. The seven-member nonpartisan panel is charged with evaluating judges' performance.

Supreme Court justices and Superior Court judges must stand for retention at the first general election after their first three years of service. After that, justices must stand every 10 years, while judges appear on the ballot every six years.

During the campaign against them, Fabe, Tan and Michalski gained defenders from within -- and outside -- legal circles.

David Owens, an Anchorage attorney who sometimes argues before Tan and Michalski, likened the campaign against the judges to a witch hunt.

Fritz Pettyjohn, a former Republican lawmaker who chairs Alaskans for Judicial Reform, has said Michalski made the most flagrant decision, a 1998 ruling on a law aimed at outlawing gay marriage. Michalski wrote that choosing a life partner was a fundamental right guaranteed by the Alaska Constitution and ordered the state to prove a compelling interest in regulating the choice.

The ruling effectively nullified the law. Lawmakers responded by placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot later that year to ban same-sex marriages. Voters approved the amendment.

Fabe was targeted for a 1993 decision she issued as a Superior Court judge. Under the ruling, Valley Hospital in Palmer was required to perform second-trimester abortions despite a hospital policy against the procedure. Fabe said the hospital was a quasi-public institution because it accepted money from the state and federal governments and that it could not interfere with a woman's right to choose an abortion under the Alaska Constitution's right to privacy.

Gov. Tony Knowles elevated Fabe to the Supreme Court in 1996. The high court later upheld her ruling, although she did not participate in the decision.

Tan was singled out because last year he overruled the Legislature's attempt to eliminate state funding for abortions for poor women, again citing the privacy clause.

Tan ruled that the state can't favor women who decide to deliver over those who seek abortions if it provides medical care for pregnant poor women.



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