Legislature(2001 - 2002)
03/04/2002 01:35 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 court. 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 jurisdiction. 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.