Legislature(1995 - 1996)
04/24/1996 01:37 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 320 - NEW SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE FOR DILLINGHAM Number 100 CHAIRMAN PORTER asked Kelly Huber from Senator Halford's office to present SB 320. KELLY HUBER, Legislative Assistant to Senator Rick Halford, said SB 320 was introduced by the Senate Finance Committee and it addresses a need in the Dillingham area and surrounding areas which would place a superior court judge in the Third Judicial District with the intent that the judge would be placed in Dillingham where the infrastructure is already in place. She noted that Dean Guaneli from the Attorney General's office was present to address any specific concerns the committee may have. CHAIRMAN PORTER noted for the record that Representative Ivan Ivan was in attendance. Number 172 DEAN GUANELI, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, Department of Law, testified the Department of Law supports SB 320. They believe the proper way to bring criminal justice services to an area is to bring a whole range of those services and that includes a superior court judge which would also be able to convene a grand jury, a prosecutor which will be installed in the area if a judge is provided there, and he believed there was already a public defender in Dillingham. He said if one of those segments is missing, particularly the judge, it makes it very inefficient for the other components of the justice system to operate. It means they have to wait for a judge who comes to the area from Anchorage and then returns to Anchorage and there's very little that can be done other than by telephone or by flying to Anchorage. At one time, there was a district attorney in Dillingham and that person spent a good portion of time in Anchorage which was quite costly in addition to being quite inefficient. The department believes this is the right way to do it and supports this legislation. He offered to answer questions from committee members. Number 264 REPRESENTATIVE CON BUNDE asked Mr Guaneli if he thought this would have an impact on the incredibly high level of preemptions that exist with judges in rural areas. He recognized that was a separate problem but wondered if this legislation would have an impact or a change. MR. GUANELI said he honestly didn't know whether it would have an impact. He thought that in most rural areas where there is a judge who resides in the community and understands the community's concerns, the preemptory challenges tend to go down because the defense attorneys and prosecutor are familiar with that judge, understand the way that judge does business and are accustomed to working with that judge. He thought it was a little different when a different judge comes out to the area on every occasion and the attorneys are not accustomed to working with that judge or the client might be unfamiliar with that judge. He thought it might very well have a tendency to drop the number of preemptory challenges. Number 348 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE said he was pleased to hear that and hoped that goal could be achieved. CHAIRMAN PORTER asked if committee members had additional questions for Mr. Guaneli. Hearing none, he called on Art Snowden to testify. Number 368 ART SNOWDEN, Administrative Director, Office of the Administrative Director, Alaska Court System, testified that obviously the judiciary supports this piece of legislation. He said currently, they are using Anchorage judges and the Anchorage courts are terribly backed up with the increase in violence. Sending judges out to the Chain area for one week a month significantly reduces their ability to handle Anchorage (indisc.). In his view there have been occasions where the prosecutors have declined to prosecute a bad check case, for example, or something of that nature in the Aleutian Chain because of the resources that would have to be expended to go out there and try it. He believed there had been an unequal level of justice in that area and this legislation would solve that problem. Also, he noted this region has a high number of fish and game related cases coming out of Bristol Bay and the Naknek area and he felt it would be good to have a judge there who was familiar with these issues instead of rotating judges into the area time and time again. He said generally, it has been the judiciary who has led them into rural Alaska and other places. In this instance, the legislature over time has built a court house in Dillingham, created a prosecutor position in Dillingham, created defense services in Dillingham; in other words everything is there and it would serve the whole criminal justice system in a beneficial manner if a judge could be located in Dillingham. Therefore, the court system supports SB 320. He offered to answer questions. CHAIRMAN PORTER announced there were three people wishing to testify from Dillingham. Number 496 DAVE BOUKER, Mayor, City of Dillingham, testified in support of SB 320. He noted the people of Dillingham anticipated having a judge appointed approximately 16 years ago, but as it turned out a judge was never appointed but they did have a district attorney for about 10 years he thought. That office was closed due to financial concerns. In the meantime, the population of Dillingham has almost doubled and it seems as if the crime rate has increased substantially. One of the overwhelming things that came out during the hearings held in Dillingham a few weeks previously was there seemed to be an unreasonably high number of cases being dismissed which sends a negative message. With that in mind, the local citizens are really concerned. He thanked the committee for giving him the opportunity to testify. Number 672 GINGER BAIM, Director, Safe and Fear Free Environment, testified that the Safe and Fear Free Environment organization is the local domestic violence and sexual assault victims service agency which is located in Dillingham and serves all the Bristol Bay region. She testified in support of SB 320 and said it has been a long time coming. The area is in desperate need for better criminal justice and prosecution services and the only way to get that is to have a superior court located there. As had been pointed out previously, even though the legislation speaks of locating the superior court in Dillingham, the superior court will service the entire Bristol Bay region which includes 32 villages and is an area roughly the size of the state of Ohio, as well as part of the Aleutian/Pribilof region. She directed the committee's attention to a letter of support contained in the bill packet from the Bristol Bay Native Association, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation, the Bristol Bay Housing Authority and the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. She said the letter is just one reflection of the strong and widespread support of the superior court for the region. She noted that one of the things that sparked their request for a superior court in Dillingham was a recent compilation of statistics showing that regionwide, they have about a 20 percent dismissal rate. There are about 850 misdemeanor charges filed in the Bristol Bay region each year and about 20 percent of those are dismissed. In the Dillingham area where the majority of those cases are filed, there is a 30 percent dismissal rate. That means that if a person commits a crime in the Dillingham area and is caught and arrested, there is a one in three chance the case will just go away and the person will never be held accountable or brought to justice. Clearly, this is a concern because of her work in the domestic violence field. She has seen numerous assault charges be dismissed. MS. BAIM said they've also had significant problems of delayed arrests with serious cases because of the inability to call a grand jury together and meet the time limit under the law. There have been times when an individual has committed a serious felony and is walking the streets for days or weeks before being picked up. She urged the committee to support SB 320 for all these reasons and more. CHAIRMAN PORTER called on Brent Moody to present his testimony on SB 320. Number 883 BRENT MOODY, Chief of Police, City of Dillingham, thanked the committee for giving him the opportunity to testify on SB 320. He said this judgeship is extremely important to improving the quality of the criminal justice system in Dillingham. It simply will multiply in a lot of different areas the quality of service the police department can provide to the citizens of Dillingham. He echoed the comments of Mr. Snowden and Mr. Guaneli. CHAIRMAN PORTER thanked Chief Moody for his testimony. He asked if there was anyone else wishing to testify on SB 320. There being none, he closed public testimony. He noted that he sits on the budget subcommittees for the court system and the Department of Law and this position and attending supporting positions have been discussed at length and he supported the legislation. Number 978 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE made a motion to pass SB 320 out of committee with individual recommendations and attached fiscal notes. Hearing no objection, SB 320 moved from the House Judiciary Committee.