Legislature(2005 - 2006)BUTROVICH 205
03/01/2006 08:30 AM JUDICIARY
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
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.