Legislature(2005 - 2006)BUTROVICH 205

03/01/2006 08:30 AM JUDICIARY


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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
+ SB 252 DEFINITION OF CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT TELECONFERENCED
<Bill Hearing Canceled>
+= SB 301 CHANGE OF VENUE IN CIVIL CASES TELECONFERENCED
Heard & Held
+= SB 249 REPORTING BAIL AND RELEASE INFORMATION TELECONFERENCED
Scheduled But Not Heard
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
= SJR 20 CONST. AM: BENEFITS & MARRIAGE
Moved SJR 20 Out of Committee
= SB 216 BAIL RESTRICTIONS
Moved CSSB 216(JUD) Out of Committee
= SB 222 PROTECTION OF PERSONAL INFORMATION
Heard & Held
= SB 284 SENTENCING FOR ALCOHOL-RELATED CRIMES
Heard & Held
             SB 301-CHANGE OF VENUE IN CIVIL CASES                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
10:05:15 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR SEEKINS announced SB 301 to be up for consideration.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
ROBERT  FAGERSTROM  informed the  committee  that  he sent  in  a                                                               
public opinion  message (POM)  the day before  and wished  to add                                                               
that  he served  in United  States Navy  and in  the Alaska  Army                                                               
National  Guard. He  is aware  of  the uniform  code of  military                                                               
justice (UCMJ). He has  served on a jury in Nome  and he has also                                                               
been a defendant and a plaintiff.  He said he knows the high cost                                                               
of litigation and  does not believe that any  Legislature has the                                                               
right to second-guess the American  way of justice. He maintained                                                               
that the system does not need to be fixed and opposed the bill.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
10:08:00 AM                                                                                                                   
MICHAEL SCHUEIDER,  attorney, testified in opposition  to SB 301.                                                               
He said  the reason that court  proceedings are held in  the city                                                               
where the incident occurred is  because the people who live there                                                               
have an  interest in the  conduct that  occurs in their  town. He                                                               
asked the  committee to  imagine they  were legally  crossing the                                                               
street when an  out-of-town citizen runs them  over and seriously                                                               
injures  them. If  SB 301  were enacted,  they, along  with their                                                               
lawyer and  staff, doctor, and  any other witnesses would  be the                                                               
ones who  would have  to travel  to the  city where  the offender                                                               
lived in order to hold the court proceedings.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
10:10:53 AM                                                                                                                   
MR. SCHEUIDER said he is aware  that the committee has heard some                                                               
outcomes  that they  might not  approve of  but the  jury is  the                                                               
entity that  heard all the  facts, not the committee  members. He                                                               
said he  recently tried  a case  in Bethel and  the jury  did not                                                               
award  to the  defense. He  suggested  the system  works in  most                                                               
jurisdictions  in  the  United  States.  Insurance  is  a  hugely                                                               
lucrative industry  that gets  paid to take  risks and  they make                                                               
money on those risks, he stated.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
10:12:55 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR   THERRIAULT  expressed   concern  over   the  unintended                                                               
consequences of the  bill, but he disagreed  with Mr. Schueider's                                                               
suggestion that the  situation was fine because  of the insurance                                                               
factor. He noted  the committee has heard  testimony that western                                                               
Alaska does not  fit the bell curve and is  lopsided to the point                                                               
where attorneys boast about large jury awards.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MR. SCHUEIDER  responded the committee members  must make certain                                                               
that things  are out of  balance before passing  the legislation.                                                               
He  respectfully suggested  the  committee was  not hearing  both                                                               
sides of the issue.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  SEEKINS asked  Mr. Schueider  whether he  was a  member of                                                               
Alaska Action Trust.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
10:16:10 AM                                                                                                                   
MR. SCHUEIDER  affirmed he is  a member,  a past chairman,  and a                                                               
frequent participant.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR SEEKINS  said Alaska Action Trust  attempted to demonstrate                                                               
that  a  defendant has  a  right  to trial  by  its  peers and  a                                                               
plaintiff has  the same  right. He asked  whether there  was case                                                               
law that  showed the plaintiff has  an absolute right to  a trial                                                               
by the plaintiff's peers and that  a plaintiff gets to decide the                                                               
venue.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. SCHUEIDER responded the plaintiff  is constrained by existing                                                               
venue  rules. The  circumstances  and existing  law define  where                                                               
cases must  be brought. He  said it wasn't that  plaintiff's have                                                               
an  absolute right  to choose  venue, plaintiff's  have the  fact                                                               
that determine where venue is  appropriate and the existing rules                                                               
provide fair venue for both parties in most settings.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
10:18:59 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR  SEEKINS asked  Mr. Schueider  whether he  agreed that  the                                                               
Alaska rules of  general procedure on venue are  subject to state                                                               
statute, which could be modified.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
MR.  SCHUEIDER said  by a  two-thirds majority,  yes. He  said he                                                               
does not challenge the power  of the Legislature but he contended                                                               
the bill  was poor  public policy and  would generate  many worse                                                               
outcomes than the current system.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  SEEKINS said  he  would  look at  Rule  3,  which he  said                                                               
subordinates  the  court's  authority  to  change  venue  to  the                                                               
Legislature without having to change the rule.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
10:20:35 AM                                                                                                                   
JAMES  MILLER,  owner  and  general  manager  of  Alaska  Weather                                                               
Operations, testified  in support of  the bill. His  company does                                                               
construction work for up to 60  communities in Alaska. He said it                                                               
was important to maintain impartial  juries and that is sometimes                                                               
difficult to obtain due to village sizes and location.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
10:23:38 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR  FRENCH asked  Mr.  Miller to  imagine  being a  landlord                                                               
whose  tenants trashed  his property  to the  tune of  $5,000 and                                                               
then moved to another city.  The landlord and his witnesses would                                                               
probably have  to drop the claim  because they would not  be able                                                               
to handle all the travel costs to get to the changed venue.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. MILLER  agreed that was a  good point. He said  it works both                                                               
ways. He suggested that the bill  should state a provision for an                                                               
impartial jury.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
10:27:22 AM                                                                                                                   
WILFORD  RYAN,   member  of  Alaska  Air   Carriers  Association,                                                               
testified in  support of SB  301. He said businesses  should have                                                               
the opportunity to defend themselves in their home area.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
10:30:45 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR SEEKINS held SB 301 in committee.                                                                                         

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