Legislature(2019 - 2020)GRUENBERG 120

03/13/2019 01:30 PM JUDICIARY

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Audio Topic
01:32:48 PM Start
01:33:27 PM Consideration of Governor's Appointees: Ak Police Standards Council
02:19:36 PM HB77
02:40:59 PM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
-- Please Note Time Change --
+ Consideration of Governor's Appointees: AK TELECONFERENCED
Police Standards Council
-- Public Testimony --
*+ HB 77 NUMBER OF SUPERIOR COURT JUDGES TELECONFERENCED
Heard & Held
-- Public Testimony --
*+ An Act relating to the Legislative Ethics Act TELECONFERENCED
<Pending Introduction & Referral>
-- Public Testimony --
             HB  77-NUMBER OF SUPERIOR COURT JUDGES                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
2:19:36 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR CLAMAN announced that the final order of business would be                                                                
HOUSE BILL  NO. 77  "An Act relating  to the number  of superior                                                                
court judges in  the third judicial district;  and providing for                                                                
an effective date."                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
2:20:04 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
NANCY MEADE,  General Counsel, Alaska  Court System, said  HB 77                                                                
would increase the  allotted number of superior  court judges by                                                                
two and  specify that  those seats serve  in the  Third Judicial                                                                
District.  She said HB 77 would allow the Alaska Court System to                                                                
take  the two  already-existing district  court seats    one  in                                                                
Homer, one in Valdez    and fill those seats with superior court                                                                
judges.  She stated that HB 77 was introduced by the House Rules                                                                
Committee by request of the  Alaska Court System.  She explained                                                                
that it is rare for the courts to request a statutory change but                                                                
noted that  this situation  requires it.   She said  HB 77  is a                                                                
priority for the Alaska Supreme Court.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
2:21:07 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS.  MEADE  addressed  why  the  Alaska Supreme  Court  wants  a                                                                
statutory change,  specifically that  Homer and  Valdez  are the                                                                
only  court  locations in  Alaska  that  are  served by  only  a                                                                
district court  judge.   She  said they  are the  last remaining                                                                
single judge locations  where the judge is not  a superior court                                                                
judge.   She  noted  that superior  court  judges have  original                                                                
jurisdiction  over all  trial  court issues  that  arise in  the                                                                
state,  whereas   district  court   judges  have   only  limited                                                                
jurisdiction.    She  said  superior  court  judges  can  handle                                                                
felonies, child-in-need-of-aid cases,  domestic relations cases,                                                                
juvenile  delinquency, civil  cases  with  amount in  excess  of                                                                
$100,000, and probate cases.  She said district court judges are                                                                
limited to misdemeanors, civil cases with a lower dollar amount,                                                                
and some  other matters.   She  said the  court system  wants to                                                                
equip Homer and Valdez with superior court judges who can handle                                                                
everything filed in those locations.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
2:22:19 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS. MEADE noted that the timing for this change is ideal, as the                                                                
district court seat in Valdez is currently vacant due the former                                                                
judge's appointment to a new superior court seat in Juneau.  She                                                                
added that the  district court judge in Homer  has announced her                                                                
retirement effective  at the  end of June.   She  said if  HB 77                                                                
passes this  year, the  court system will  be able  to advertise                                                                
those seats as superior  court judges rather than district court                                                                
judges.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MS.  MEADE explained  that the  court system  wants  this change                                                                
because  the current  status  quo for  handling  cases in  those                                                                
locations is and  has long been problematic.   She said superior                                                                
court cases in Homer are  covered by the superior court judge in                                                                
Kenai, who travels to  Homer one week per month.   She said this                                                                
is not a  sustainable or effective way to  handle that caseload.                                                                
She added that  there are additional costs to  the current Homer                                                                
which make it inefficient.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
2:24:04 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS. MEADE  said the Valdez  situation is similar.   She restated                                                                
that the district  court seat is vacant and if  the court system                                                                
were able to fill it  with a superior court judge, the new judge                                                                
would be  able to handle all  cases there.  She  said the former                                                                
district court judge was exceptional and had been able to handle                                                                
some superior  court matters with special  appointments from the                                                                
Alaska  Supreme Court.   She  said if  the seat  were  filled by                                                                
another district court judge,  superior court matters would have                                                                
to be handled by judges  from Palmer, Kodiak, or elsewhere.  She                                                                
said the  Alaska Supreme Court  has explored many ways  to cover                                                                
Homer and Valdez and has determined the change proposed in HB 77                                                                
to be the most cost-effective.                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
2:25:54 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE EASTMAN  asked if  the  number of  district court                                                                
judges  is set  in  statute  and, if  not,  how  that number  is                                                                
determined.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS.  MEADE  said   the  number  of  district   court  judges  is                                                                
established in the court system's administrative rules.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
2:26:16 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE WOOL asked if the number of superior court judges                                                                
is limited  as well.   He asked  for more information  about the                                                                
differences between  superior court  and district  court judges.                                                                
He also  asked if superior court judges  sometimes hear district                                                                
court cases.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
2:27:12 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS. MEADE clarified that the  number of district court judges is                                                                
set in the court's rules.  She said there is a statute that says                                                                
the court can amend that number from time to time.  She said the                                                                
qualifications for  superior court judges are  generally similar                                                                
to district  court judges.   She said  superior court  seats may                                                                
require  a longer  residency.   She  added  that superior  court                                                                
judges are chosen the same way district court judges are chosen.                                                                
She described the process through which applicants are processed                                                                
by  the Alaska  Judicial Council and  scored  by the  Alaska Bar                                                                
Association  before the  most  qualified  are  nominated to  the                                                                
governor.    She  said  different  caseloads  attract  different                                                                
applicants.  She said some applicants prefer the quicker pace of                                                                
the district court while others prefer superior court cases that                                                                
last longer  and require  more writing and  research.   She said                                                                
whether superior court  judges cover both  superior and district                                                                
court caseloads depends on  location.  She said the  plan is for                                                                
the proposed superior court judges in  Valdez and Homer to cover                                                                
both kinds of cases.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
2:29:37 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE WOOL asked if district court judges ever apply to                                                                
superior court seats.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MS. MEADE  answered that  it sometimes happens.   She  said many                                                                
district court judges are happy with their roles.  She noted not                                                                
all judges seek to move up a level and some are better suited to                                                                
one level and not another.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR CLAMAN  shared that current  Chief Justice Joel  H. Bolger                                                                
previously served as a district  court judge in Valdez, then was                                                                
appointed  to  the  superior  court seat  in  Kodiak,  then  was                                                                
appointed to the Alaska Court  of Appeals, then was appointed to                                                                
the  Alaska  Supreme Court,  from  which  he  was elected  Chief                                                                
Justice by  his  colleagues.   He said  he thinks  Chief Justice                                                                
Bolger is  the first judge in  Alaska history to  have served at                                                                
all four levels of the court system.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
2:31:20 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX  said she understands there  are locations                                                                
where  a single  court judge  hears both  superior  and district                                                                
court cases.   She  said she  assumes the  court system  has had                                                                
experience with these situations and has found it works well.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MS. MEADE  answered "yes."  She  said the court  system seeks to                                                                
replicate the  success of  locations like  Kotzebue, Dillingham,                                                                
Nome, and Sitka.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
2:32:17 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE EASTMAN  asked if  he understands  correctly that                                                                
Homer  and  Valdez are  the  state's  only stand-alone  district                                                                
courts.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MS. MEADE answered "yes."                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE EASTMAN  asked how long  it would take  after the                                                                
passage  of HB  77  to  amend the  court's  rules  to reflect  a                                                                
decrease in district court seats.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
MS. MEADE  said once HB 77  is signed, the  court rules attorney                                                                
would  recommend the  administrative rule  be  decreased by  two                                                                
seats.    She  said  the  process  for  making  noncontroversial                                                                
administrative rule changes moves quickly.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR CLAMAN  noted that the  court system can change  its rules                                                                
faster than the legislature can pass legislation.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
2:33:38 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  EASTMAN asked  how  many  district court  judges                                                                
would remain should HB 77 become law.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MS. MEADE answered there would be 20.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
2:34:03 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE KOPP noted  that the number  of judges is  set in                                                                
statute.  He cited [AS 22.10.120].                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MS. MEADE said  this is correct.  She said  there is language in                                                                
statute  that allows  the  Alaska Supreme  Court  to change  the                                                                
number from time to time as it sees fit.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE KOPP  asked if  it would  take a  two-thirds vote                                                                
from the legislature to change a court rule.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS. MEADE  distinguished between  this court  rule, which  is an                                                                
administrative  rule, and  one  of  the  rules of  practice  and                                                                
procedure that are covered in  the state constitution.  She said                                                                
a two-thirds  vote is not  necessary to amend  an administrative                                                                
rule.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  KOPP posited  that  only  a  simple majority  is                                                                
necessary.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MS. MEADE  clarified that the legislature would  not be amending                                                                
the  administrative rule.   She  said the  legislature would  be                                                                
amending  the  statute,  after  which  the  court  system  would                                                                
determine the necessity of a rule change.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
2:35:26 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR CLAMAN said  the court system has authority  to change its                                                                
own rules  due to  the separation  of powers  held in  the state                                                                
constitution.  He said the Alaska Supreme Court can change court                                                                
rules whenever it  sees fit, as part  of its inherent authority.                                                                
He  noted that  a  two-thirds majority  of  the legislature  can                                                                
essentially tell  the court, "We're  changing a rule  and you've                                                                
got to live with it."                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
2:36:14 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE KOPP stipulated that  the court system's changing                                                                
of the rule  hinges on the legislature passing HB 77.   He asked                                                                
if the fiscal note was  reflective of a single judge's salary or                                                                
of both positions.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MS. MEADE  explained that the  fiscal note is reflective  of the                                                                
net  impact of  shifting both  positions.   She said  the number                                                                
reflects the difference in salary and benefits for two positions                                                                
less savings on travel costs  for other judges to cover superior                                                                
court cases.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  KOPP  asked  if  this  is  the  same  thing  the                                                                
legislature  did when  it  upgraded  the  Juneau position  to  a                                                                
superior court seat.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MS. MEADE answered  yes.  She referenced House  Bill 298 [passed                                                                
in the Thirtieth Alaska State Legislature] which made it so.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
2:37:27 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  EASTMAN  asked   about  a  scenario   in  which,                                                                
regardless of  whether HB  77 passes,  the Alaska  Supreme court                                                                
elects to add district court judges.   He asked if that decision                                                                
would require a majority vote of the Alaska Supreme Court and if                                                                
the decision would require budgetary adjustments.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
MS. MEADE called the scenario "quite hypothetical."  She said it                                                                
would require a budgetary increase for two new positions.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  EASTMAN  asked  whether  that  would  require  a                                                                
majority vote of the Alaska Supreme Court.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MS.  MEADE  answered  that  rule  changes  happen  often.    She                                                                
described the  process through  which the rules  attorney brings                                                                
recommendations from various rules  committees before the court.                                                                
She said the court votes on how to approach those proposed rule                                                                 
changes.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
2:39:15 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR CLAMAN opened public testimony on HB 77.  After                                                                           
ascertaining that no one wished to testify, he closed public                                                                    
testimony.  HB 77 was held for further review.                                                                                  

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
Alaska Police Standards Council Appointment-Stephen Dutra Resume 3.13.19.pdf HJUD 3/13/2019 1:30:00 PM
Alaska Police Standards Council Appointment-Rebecca Hamon Resume 3.13.19.pdf HJUD 3/13/2019 1:30:00 PM
Alaska Police Standards Council Appointment-Burke Waldron Resume 3.13.19.pdf HJUD 3/13/2019 1:30:00 PM
Alaska Police Standards Council Appointment-Joseph White Resume 3.13.19.pdf HJUD 3/13/2019 1:30:00 PM
Alaska Police Standards Council Appointment-Jennifer Winkelman Resume 3.13.19.pdf HJUD 3/13/2019 1:30:00 PM
HB077 ver A 3.13.19.PDF HJUD 3/13/2019 1:30:00 PM
HJUD 3/15/2019 1:30:00 PM
HB 77
HB077 Sponsor Statement 3.13.19.pdf HJUD 3/13/2019 1:30:00 PM
HJUD 3/15/2019 1:30:00 PM
HB 77
HB077 Fiscal Note JUD-ACS 3.13.19.pdf HJUD 3/13/2019 1:30:00 PM
HJUD 3/15/2019 1:30:00 PM
HB 77