Legislature(2001 - 2002)

03/04/2002 01:35 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
           SB 331-DISTRICT COURT JURISDICTIONAL AMOUNT                                                                      
SENATOR THERRIAULT, SB 331 sponsor,  informed the committee SB 331                                                              
was introduced to  clarify an issue brought to  his attention with                                                              
regards  to   the  jurisdictional   limits  for  district   court.                                                              
Currently in  the State of Alaska  AS 22.15.031 on page  1, line 7                                                              
of the bill reads;  for the recovery of money or  damages when the                                                              
amount claimed  exclusive  of costs, interest,  and attorney  fees                                                              
does not exceed  $50,000.  He said  it is unclear whether  that is                                                              
$50,000 per case or $50,000 per defendant.                                                                                      
     What this  has the  result of causing  to happen  is, if                                                                   
     you are  out say along  the Richardson Highway  or other                                                                   
     highways in the  more sort of remote areas  of the State                                                                   
     of Alaska, if  you want to assure yourself  that you can                                                                   
     get to the upper jurisdictional  limits you have go into                                                                   
     one of  the urban areas and  file your case  in Superior                                                                   
     Court.  It's  more expensive for the court  system; it's                                                                   
     twelve  jurors instead  of six.    And I  think it  puts                                                                   
     those people  out in  the more rural  areas at a  little                                                                   
     bit of a disadvantage as far  as whether they can have a                                                                   
     trial take place in the area  that they live and whether                                                                   
     they can  have it then judged  by their peers  or jurors                                                                   
     selected from the community in which they live.                                                                            
SENATOR THERRIAULT worked  on this with the court  system.  Emails                                                              
were sent  to different judges asking  questions about this  and a                                                              
number of  justices came  back and said  there is a  question that                                                              
perhaps did  need clarification.   He spoke to Chairman  Taylor to                                                              
get more information on exactly how  it works.  He said perhaps he                                                              
should  have paid  a  visit to  Chairman  Taylor,  being a  former                                                              
district court judge, before he introduced the bill.                                                                            
He understood the  court system is willing to say  there is a zero                                                              
fiscal impact.                                                                                                                  
SENATOR DONLEY said he thought it would save some money.                                                                        
CHAIRMAN  TAYLOR  said he  supported  the  bill.   He  had  always                                                              
supported expansion  of district court jurisdiction  because it is                                                              
an  anachronism.   He would  like to  get rid  of district  courts                                                              
altogether and  make them superior/district  so they  could better                                                              
utilize the judicial talent around  the state.  People ought to be                                                              
fully authorized when sent to towns  and cities to handle any case                                                              
and not be constrained by judicial jurisdictional levels.                                                                       
MR.  DOUGLAS  WOOLIVER,  Administrative Attorney  for  the  Alaska                                                              
Court System,  stated they did not  have any objection to  SB 331.                                                              
He checked  with presiding  judges and  individual superior  court                                                              
judges  and district  court judges  from all the  districts.   The                                                              
court  did not have  any objection  one  way or the  other.   This                                                              
would affect very few cases.  He  said he talked to Judge Weeks in                                                              
Juneau who  thought he  remembered a case  about twelve  years ago                                                              
that might have  fallen into this category but there  are not very                                                              
many.   Some  judges in  Anchorage  and Fairbanks  know there  are                                                              
cases with a handful of defendants  this could affect but they are                                                              
really looking at a small number of cases every year.                                                                           
To the extent  there is any confusion about whether  it is $50,000                                                              
per case or  $50,000 per defendant, his general  understanding has                                                              
always been  per case.   At least one  judge told him  the statute                                                              
isn't clear and this bill clears it up.                                                                                         
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR gave a scenario where  he brought suit against his                                                              
neighbor and  guessed the  damages were $40,000.   At the  trial a                                                              
jury of  six people said he  did not calculate  damages correctly.                                                              
The jury said the damages were really  $75,000 and the judgment is                                                              
for $75,000.   He asked if  that judgment could be  challenged and                                                              
limited  to  $50,000 because  that  was  the jurisdiction  of  the                                                              
MR. WOOLIVER said that is correct.                                                                                              
SENATOR DONLEY  said the way it works  judgment is good  for up to                                                              
the jurisdictional limit of the court.                                                                                          
MR. WOOLIVER said  that is correct.  Any cases that  are the least                                                              
bit  marginal   would  want  to   go  to  the  court   of  general                                                              
SENATOR THERRIAULT  disclosed that this  issue was brought  to his                                                              
attention because of a case his wife's law firm is handling.  He                                                                
had made sure that any change in the law would not impact that                                                                  
case even though it is under appeal.                                                                                            
SENATOR DONLEY moved SB 331 from committee with the zero fiscal                                                                 
note and individual recommendations.  There being no objection,                                                                 
the motion carried.                                                                                                             
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR adjourned the meeting at 2:30 p.m.                                                                              

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