Legislature(2019 - 2020)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)

03/11/2019 01:30 PM JUDICIARY

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Heard & Held
-- Public Testimony --
Heard & Held
-- Public Testimony --
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
          SB 55-TEMP. APPOINTMENTS TO COURT OF APPEALS                                                                      
2:57:33 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  HUGHES  reconvened the  meeting.  She  announced that  the                                                               
final order  of business  would be  SENATE BILL  NO. 55,  "An Act                                                               
relating to judges of the court  of appeals; and providing for an                                                               
effective date."                                                                                                                
2:57:41 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR DAVID WILSON, Alaska  State Legislature, paraphrased from                                                               
the following sponsor statement:                                                                                                
     Senate Bill  55 provides a  solution to the  backlog of                                                                    
     cases  at  the  Court  of  Appeals.  Since  2014,  more                                                                    
     criminal  appeals  are  being   filed  than  are  being                                                                    
     decided. This  has led  to a  mounting backlog  that is                                                                    
     increasingly difficult to resolve.                                                                                         
     The  Court  of Appeals  is  composed  of three  judges.                                                                    
     These  judges  work  diligently and  maintain  a  heavy                                                                    
     workload, but  unheard cases just keep  accumulating. A                                                                    
     long delay  before criminal appeals are  decided is not                                                                    
     acceptable  for  crime  victims,  the  general  public,                                                                    
     attorneys, or defendants.                                                                                                  
     Senate Bill  55 enables  the Court  of Appeals  to hear                                                                    
     cases in a timely  manner. This legislation would grant                                                                    
     the Chief  Justice authority  to appoint  an individual                                                                    
     to act as  a Court of Appeals judge at  the pleasure of                                                                    
     the supreme  court for  no longer  than three  years to                                                                    
     address the backlog.  As we focus on  public safety, it                                                                    
     is  essential that  we also  equip the  courts to  hear                                                                    
     cases as  they are  brought forth.  Thank you  for your                                                                    
     consideration of this important legislation.                                                                               
He said in  2013, the backlog of cases ready  for judicial review                                                               
was approximately  50 cases per  judge. An appellate  court judge                                                               
issue about 50  decisions per year. In 2018, the  number of cases                                                               
assigned to  judges rose  to about 90  cases per  judge. Although                                                               
judges  currently issue  significantly more  decisions per  year,                                                               
the rate  of cases  has increased  to the  point that  the judges                                                               
cannot keep up.                                                                                                                 
3:00:36 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR WILSON  provided the following sectional  analysis for SB
     Section 1: Amends AS 22.07.010  to provide an exception                                                                    
     for  an  additional court  of  appeals  judge under  AS                                                                    
     22.07.070(c) [Page 1, lines 1-6].                                                                                          
     Section   2:  Conforming   amendment   to  remove   the                                                                    
     exception  for an  additional  court  of appeals  judge                                                                    
     after a three-year period [Page 1, lines 7-10].                                                                            
     Section 3: Adds a new  subsection, AS 22.07.070 (c), to                                                                    
     allow  the  chief  justice  of  the  supreme  court  to                                                                    
     appoint  acting court  of appeals  judges as  needed to                                                                    
     serve for no  longer than three years.  An acting court                                                                    
     of   appeals  judge   must   meet  the   qualifications                                                                    
     established under AS 22.07.404.                                                                                            
     Section 4:  Repeals AS 22.07.070(c) after  a three-year                                                                    
     Section 5:  Adds a  revisors instruction  directing the                                                                    
     revisor  of statutes  to change  the catch  line of  AS                                                                    
     22.07.070 from  "Vacancies" to  "Selection of  court of                                                                    
     appeals judges".                                                                                                           
     Section 6:  Establishes that sections  2 and 4  of this                                                                    
     act will take effect on July 1, 2022.                                                                                      
3:02:09 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  HUGHES pointed  out that  the fiscal  note allows  for one                                                               
judge. She asked  for further clarification if only  one judge is                                                               
currently needed because the bill  read "as many judges as needed                                                               
to serve."  She asked whether only  one judge would be  needed to                                                               
solve the backlog.                                                                                                              
SENATOR WILSON answered yes, that  he worked in consultation with                                                               
the Alaska  Court System, who  indicated the court  would request                                                               
one temporary judge.                                                                                                            
CHAIR HUGHES asked  for further clarification on  where the judge                                                               
would be located.                                                                                                               
SENATOR WILSON answered that he  did not know. However, the three                                                               
judges meet  together in  one location.  He envisioned  one judge                                                               
would  rotate  off the  bench  to  focus  on writing  briefs  and                                                               
3:03:28 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HUGHES asked how this  would this impact public safety. She                                                               
further  asked how  many  of  the cases  were  criminal cases  as                                                               
opposed to civil cases.                                                                                                         
SENATOR WILSON deferred to the Alaska Court System to respond.                                                                  
3:03:40 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR KIEHL  related his  understanding that  there would  be a                                                               
series of  three judge panels.  He explained the practice  of pro                                                               
tem district  court judge to serve  as a superior court  judge is                                                               
for a  specific period  of time.  These judges  are ones  who are                                                               
vetted  by   the  Alaska  Judicial  Council,   appointed  by  the                                                               
governor,  and  accountable to  the  public  through a  retention                                                               
vote. He asked whether this  appointment process would skip those                                                               
SENATOR  WILSON  answered  that  this would  be  similar  to  the                                                               
existing statute to  provide a "temporary judge" to  serve on the                                                               
district  court, similar  to the  process  to provide  a pro  tem                                                               
judge to serve on the Superior  Court. He highlighted his goal is                                                               
not to circumvent  the permanent judicial appointment,  but to be                                                               
a one-time temporary appointment.                                                                                               
3:05:11 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR KIEHL offered the key  distinction of the Alaska Court of                                                               
Appeals  is  that  it  acts  as the  court  of  record  and  sets                                                               
precedent  with  its opinion.  This  would  be different  than  a                                                               
temporary  appointment  to  the   district  court,  he  said.  He                                                               
cautioned that the lack of accountability gives him concern.                                                                    
3:05:52 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  WILSON  answered  that  this   was  not  an  attempt  to                                                               
circumvent  the process,  but to  allow the  court of  appeals an                                                               
opportunity to address its backlog  as a temporary solution to an                                                               
ongoing problem. The [Alaska Supreme  Court] chief justice  would                                                               
make the decision, he said.                                                                                                     
3:06:38 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  REINBOLD expressed  the  same concern  as Senator  Kiehl                                                               
raised.  She  acknowledged that the Constitution of  the State of                                                               
Alaska  allows the  chief justice  to  appoint a  judge to  serve                                                               
temporarily but argued that three  years seemed like a long time.                                                               
She cautioned  that this  bill seemed  to circumvent  the system,                                                               
but she was willing to continue the conversation.                                                                               
CHAIR HUGHES  asked whether the sponsor  would be open to  add in                                                               
an appointment and confirmation process.                                                                                        
SENATOR WILSON  said he is  amenable to the  committee's desires.                                                               
However, the appellate court cases  are not ones easily solved in                                                               
a   short  amount   of  time.   The  appellate   court  carefully                                                               
deliberates on  its cases. He  thought the three-year  period was                                                               
reasonable,  noting it  was less  than a  district court  judge's                                                               
3:08:30 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR SHOWER asked  the court system to weigh in  as to whether                                                               
a shorter timeframe might be more amenable.                                                                                     
3:08:54 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MICCICHE  said he had  anticipated that the  fiscal notes                                                               
for crime bills would provide an  analysis of how every aspect of                                                               
the  court  system  would  operate  more  smoothly.  He  wondered                                                               
whether the crime package would  address a comprehensive analysis                                                               
of the court system.                                                                                                            
SENATOR WILSON  explained that he  introduced SB 55  to reinforce                                                               
and  enhance   the  system,  given   that  the   legislature  and                                                               
administration have  been working to revise  the criminal justice                                                               
3:10:48 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HUGHES remarked  that the ACS was the first  to assist with                                                               
the large fiscal gap.                                                                                                           
3:11:25 PM                                                                                                                    
NANCY  MEADE,  General  Counsel, Administrative  Offices,  Alaska                                                               
Court   System  (ACS),   Anchorage,  stated   that  the   sponsor                                                               
approached the  Alaska Court System  with a bill, which  she said                                                               
would provide welcome  relief due to the  court system's backlog.                                                               
She explained  that at  the trial court  level, the  agency would                                                               
hire a  pro tem  judge to handle  criminal trials.  The appellate                                                               
court judges  also have  a backlog of  criminal cases,  which are                                                               
either sentence  appeals or merit  appeals, she said.  The Alaska                                                               
Supreme  Court meets  annually to  consider budget  requests. The                                                               
fourth judge contemplated  in this bill was on the  ASC's list of                                                               
potential budget requests or statutory  changes. However, the ASC                                                               
decided to focus solely on the  budget, she said. She said adding                                                               
the fourth judge would be helpful.                                                                                              
3:13:22 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  HUGHES related  her understanding  that  the Alaska  Court                                                               
System was not opposed to adding  a fourth judge, but the request                                                               
had been prioritized at a lower level.                                                                                          
MS. MEADE answered yes.                                                                                                         
3:13:35 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HUGHES asked for the reason for the increase in cases.                                                                    
MS.  MEADE answered  that  it  is hard  to  pinpoint the  reason.                                                               
However,  each  criminal  trial decision  can  be  appealed.  The                                                               
number of  criminal convictions  has risen.  The number  of cases                                                               
referred to the  Alaska Court of Appeals rises in  synch with the                                                               
number of  guilty convictions.  The backlog  was also  related to                                                               
recent vacancies,  including that  a series  of vacancies  on the                                                               
court of  appeals occurred, which she  briefly detailed. Although                                                               
the court of  appeals is currently stable, having  a fourth judge                                                               
would be helpful, she said.                                                                                                     
3:15:23 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HUGHES related that as  crime increases, more offenders are                                                               
found guilty and it results in a spike in cases.                                                                                
3:15:43 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR KIEHL asked for further  clarification on whether the ASC                                                               
had considered adding an additional  temporary or permanent judge                                                               
to serve on the Alaska Court of Appeals.                                                                                        
MS. MEADE answered  that the Alaska Supreme  Court had considered                                                               
a  number of  options, including  having a  superior court  judge                                                               
serve  pro tem  on the  Alaska  Court of  Appeals. Although  this                                                               
process has  worked for several  years, when a judge  retired, it                                                               
left a gap on the superior court.                                                                                               
3:16:58 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR SHOWER asked  if the Court of Appeals would  like to have                                                               
a permanent fourth judge.                                                                                                       
MS.  MEADE  recalled that  the  ASC  did  not  come to  any  real                                                               
conclusion. In response  to Chair Hughes, she  offered to consult                                                               
with the  court and  report back  to the  committee on  the ASC's                                                               
view of having a permanent fourth appellate judge.                                                                              
3:18:13 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MICCICHE asked whether the  proposed judge pro tem serves                                                               
as a contract judge or if he/she would receive benefits.                                                                        
MS. MEADE explained that this  would be staffed with a three-year                                                               
employee, who would receive the  same salary and Public Employees                                                               
Retirement  System  Benefits,  but not  the  judicial  retirement                                                               
system  benefits.  Since  the  judge would  not  go  through  the                                                               
judicial council  process, the individual  would not  be entitled                                                               
to judicial retirement, she said.                                                                                               
3:18:58 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MICCICHE  asked whether the  pro tem judge would  be paid                                                               
on a contractual basis without benefits.                                                                                        
MS. MEADE  answered that  the salaries and  benefits for  pro tem                                                               
judges  and  acting judges  are  handled  differently. This  bill                                                               
would allow the Alaska Supreme  Court to appoint an acting judge.                                                               
Th Alaska Supreme Court would  appoint a practicing attorney with                                                               
substantial experience  to fill the  position as per  the statute                                                               
Senator Wilson  previously referenced.  However, a pro  tem judge                                                               
is selected  through the  Alaska Judicial  Council process  or is                                                               
someone  who  currently  serves  as  a judge,  she  said.  It  is                                                               
possible to  "pro tem"  a superior  court judge  to serve  on the                                                               
Alaska  Court of  Appeals, which  is a  process the  court system                                                               
currently uses.  Further, pro  tem judges  could also  be retired                                                               
judges  or justices  who continue  to  take specific  assignments                                                               
with the  court. These judges would  be paid on a  daily basis by                                                               
court rule.                                                                                                                     
3:20:15 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HUGHES asked whether it  would be difficult to find someone                                                               
to  serve for  a temporary  three-year  position or  if it  would                                                               
present a barrier.                                                                                                              
MS. MEADE said that she discussed this with the Alaska Supreme                                                                  
Court. The court thought that there would be considerable                                                                       
interest in filling the position.                                                                                               
3:20:43 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HUGHES opened public testimony and after first determining                                                                
no one wished to testify, closed public testimony on SB 55.                                                                     
[SB 55 was held in committee.]                                                                                                  

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SJUD Agenda 3.11.19.pdf SJUD 3/11/2019 1:30:00 PM
Senate Bill 15 Version A.PDF SJUD 3/11/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 15
SB 15 Sponsor Statement.pdf SJUD 3/11/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 15
SB 15 Sectional Analysis.pdf SJUD 3/11/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 15
SB 15 Capital Closeup Article 10.17.18.pdf SJUD 3/11/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 15
SB 15 NY Law Journal Article 9.6.11.pdf SJUD 3/11/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 15
SB 15 National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.pdf SJUD 3/11/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 15
SB 15 State Research.pdf SJUD 3/11/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 15
Senate Bill 55, Version A.pdf SJUD 3/11/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 55
SB 55 - Sectional Summary.pdf SFIN 3/27/2019 9:00:00 AM
SJUD 3/11/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 55
SB 55 - Sponsor Statement.pdf SFIN 3/27/2019 9:00:00 AM
SJUD 3/11/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 55