Legislature(1995 - 1996)

04/24/1996 01:37 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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                    
 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                   
 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               
 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.                

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