Legislature(2019 - 2020)BUTROVICH 205

04/02/2019 11:30 AM RULES

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Audio Topic
11:30:41 AM Start
11:31:30 AM SB41
11:46:13 AM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Moved SB 41 Out of Committee
-- Testimony <Invited/Public> --
             SB 41-NUMBER OF SUPERIOR COURT JUDGES                                                                          
11:31:30 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR KOPP  announced that  the only order  of business  would be                                                               
SENATE BILL  NO. 41, "An Act  relating to the number  of superior                                                               
court judges  in the third  judicial district; and  providing for                                                               
an effective date."                                                                                                             
CHAIR KOPP noted that  SB 41 is the same bill as  HB 77, which is                                                               
presently in Rules.                                                                                                             
11:32:46 AM                                                                                                                   
NANCY MEADE,  General Counsel, Administrative  Staff,   Office of                                                               
the Administrative  Director, Alaska  Court System,  presented SB
41.   She stated  that the  proposed legislation  would authorize                                                               
the  addition of  two judges  to  the number  of Alaska  Superior                                                               
Court  judges authorized  in  statute; the  two  judges would  be                                                               
seated  in the  Third  Judicial District.    She elaborated  that                                                               
under SB  41, the Alaska  Court System  would be able  to convert                                                               
two existing district court judgeships -  one in Homer and one in                                                               
Valdez -  to superior  court trials sites.   Ms.  Meade explained                                                               
that the  reason this request  has been  made is that  both Homer                                                               
and  Valdez are  the  last remaining  single-judge locations  not                                                               
served by a superior court judge.                                                                                               
MS.  MEADE reviewed  that  a superior  court  judge has  original                                                               
jurisdiction  over any  trial  matter that  arises  in the  state                                                               
while a district court judge  has only limited jurisdiction.  She                                                               
listed that which  a superior court judge can  handle:  felonies;                                                               
domestic  relations cases,  such  as child  custody and  divorce;                                                               
probate issues, such as mental  commitments; and child in need of                                                               
aid cases.   In contrast, a district court judge  can handle only                                                               
misdemeanors  and preliminary,  emergency  situations related  to                                                               
child  in  need  of  aid   cases;  he/she  cannot  handle  mental                                                               
commitments,  divorce cases,  and  custody matters.   She  stated                                                               
that by  staffing Homer and  Valdez with a superior  court judge,                                                               
those  courts  would be  able  to  handle  all cases  that  "walk                                                               
through the door."                                                                                                              
MS. MEADE  stated that the  timing is perfect, because  the Homer                                                               
district court judge  has announced her retirement at  the end of                                                               
the current  fiscal year,  and the district  court judge  seat in                                                               
Valdez is currently vacant, the  judge there having recently been                                                               
appointed to  the Juneau Superior  Court.   If SB 41  passes, the                                                               
Judicial Council  will advertise  these two openings  as superior                                                               
court seats,  rather than  district court  seats, which  she said                                                               
would give the court system the flexibility it needs.                                                                           
11:35:17 AM                                                                                                                   
MS.  MEADE  relayed  that  in Homer,  the  district  court  judge                                                               
handles all district  court matters that are  filed; however, any                                                               
superior  court matters  filed are  handled  by traveling  judges                                                               
from Kenai, who travel  to Homer for one week a  month.  She said                                                               
a video conferencing system was  installed between the two courts                                                               
to cut  down on  the amount of  travel necessary;  however, there                                                               
are lots of  hearings dealing with criminal matters  and child in                                                               
need  of aid  where a  judge needs  to meet  face-to-face in  the                                                               
court room,  and that  affects the court  schedules of  the Kenai                                                               
judges and is not a sustainable way to handle cases.                                                                            
MS. MEADE  said that  in Valdez the  situation has  been "similar                                                               
thought  slightly different."   She  explained that  the district                                                               
court judge [who had been there  until recently] has served for a                                                               
long  time and  has been  willing to  handle some  superior court                                                               
matters.   By  rule, the  court can  temporarily -  "pro temp"  -                                                               
allow a  district court judge  to handle superior  court matters,                                                               
and the  [erstwhile] judge  of the  Valdez District  Court, along                                                               
with the one  before him, has the qualifications  to handle those                                                               
matters; therefore, there has not  been as much travel necessary.                                                               
If that  seat were filled with  a new district court  judge, then                                                               
the judges would have to be  sent from Palmer to Valdez to attend                                                               
to superior court cases.   She clarified, "So, though the problem                                                               
hasn't been as  acute there because of the  individual seated, it                                                               
would become acute with a new individual in that slot."                                                                         
11:37:08 AM                                                                                                                   
MS. MEADE noted  that the Supreme Court tries  to be conservative                                                               
in  what it  asks from  the legislature,  and it  has thought  of                                                               
alternatives.   She  reiterated  that as  a  means of  minimizing                                                               
travel,  video  conferencing  equipment  had  been  installed  in                                                               
Homer, and in  Valdez there is video  conferencing equipment that                                                               
connects that  district court with  Cordova and Glen Allen.   She                                                               
restated  that there  are certain  [cases]  that require  travel.                                                               
She said,  "So, we think that  right now, having those  two seats                                                               
as superior court judges would  help the local communities there,                                                               
but also provide  flexibility really in the  whole Third Judicial                                                               
District."   For example, if a  Palmer judge is busy  with a long                                                               
criminal trial, a superior court  judge in Valdez could, perhaps,                                                               
handle the child in need of aid  cases for 4-6 weeks.  She added,                                                               
"That person could help in Kodiak  and other places, as well, and                                                               
we think that that is probably what's going to happen."                                                                         
11:38:20 AM                                                                                                                   
MS. MEADE directed attention to  the fiscal note in the committee                                                               
packet.   She  said a  brand new  superior court  judge can  cost                                                               
about half a  million dollars, which includes  the judge's salary                                                               
and staff, and  the court, being conservative, would  not ask for                                                               
that.  However, with the  proposed conversion of a superior court                                                               
judgeship,  the new  superior court  judge can  use the  existing                                                               
chairs, computers,  courtrooms, and  staff that already  exist in                                                               
Valdez and  Homer; thus, the  fiscal impact  is less.   She added                                                               
that the travel cost would be obviated, as well.                                                                                
11:39:34 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  EASTMAN,  regarding  staffing,  asked  about  the                                                               
difference  between a  district  court judge  and superior  court                                                               
MS. MEADE  answered that typically superior  court judges receive                                                               
a dedicated  law clerk  while district court  judges share  a law                                                               
clerk in Anchorage.  She continued:                                                                                             
     Other  than that,  tough, they  need an  in-court clerk                                                                    
     ... to  do all  that work  that's involved  during that                                                                    
     preceding, and they ... each  have a judicial assistant                                                                    
     to  do  administrative  tasks and  help  them  keep  on                                                                    
     schedule and on task.                                                                                                      
REPRESENTATIVE EASTMAN asked,  "Are these going to  be, then, the                                                               
only two  superior court judges  that don't have  those dedicated                                                               
staff, or is that solved some other way?"                                                                                       
MS. MEADE  answered, "They  will not be  the only  superior court                                                               
judges  without a  law clerk,  which  is the  only difference  in                                                               
staffing.  In  the Juneau Superior Court, we have  two law clerks                                                               
for three superior court judges,  so, they share resources there,                                                               
and what we  expect for ... these individuals, both  in Homer and                                                               
Valdez, is  that they  would share  existing law  clerk resources                                                               
from other judges."  She  explained that is because after looking                                                               
at the  state's fiscal picture,  the court is considering  how to                                                               
be  more conservative  with the  resources.   She said,  "So, the                                                               
Valdez judge,  when he or  she needs  a law clerk,  could contact                                                               
... the  judges in Palmer and  say, 'Hey, can one  of your clerks                                                               
help  me with  this  project?'  and similarly  for  Kenai."   She                                                               
added,  "We do  think that  that will  work and  bring about  the                                                               
appropriate result."                                                                                                            
11:41:32 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE THOMPSON  offered his understanding  that superior                                                               
court judges  receive more in  retirement than do  district court                                                               
judges,  and   he  questioned  whether   that  would   mean  "our                                                               
retirement costs" will be increasing "through the out years."                                                                   
MS. MEADE offered her  understanding that Representative Thompson                                                               
was asking what would happen in  20 years when the superior court                                                               
judge retires.  She confirmed that  a judge who received a larger                                                               
salary during  his/her career would  receive a larger  benefit in                                                               
retirement, and superior court judges  do make more than district                                                               
court judges.                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  THOMPSON   concluded  that  "it  would   be  more                                                               
expensive for that retirement."                                                                                                 
MS. MEADE responded that's correct.                                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE  THOMPSON  asked  if   a  superior  court  judge's                                                               
retirement is  based on a higher  percentage of salary than  is a                                                               
district court judge's retirement.                                                                                              
MS. MEADE answered  no; all judges' retirements are  based on the                                                               
number of years they served.                                                                                                    
11:44:05 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR KOPP said  nurses for sexual assault cases  were located in                                                               
South  Peninsula Hospital,  and he  traveled many  times to  that                                                               
hospital with the  prosecutor.  He said  sometimes the prosecutor                                                               
anticipated addressing only  misdemeanor arraignments but arrived                                                               
to  discover there  were felony  arraignments to  address but  no                                                               
superior court  judge present.   That required the  prosecutor to                                                               
drive  back up  the road  and make  a second  trip back  down the                                                               
peninsula  with the  superior court  judge.   Having  a judge  in                                                               
Homer  and  Valdez  that  can handle  those  felony  cases  would                                                               
prevent  prosecutors from  having to  make those  multiple trips,                                                               
which he said he foresaw as a savings to the state.                                                                             
11:45:10 AM                                                                                                                   
CHAIR KOPP opened public testimony  on SB 41.  After ascertaining                                                               
that there  was no one  who wished  to testify, he  closed public                                                               
testimony on SB 41.                                                                                                             
11:45:44 AM                                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSTON  moved to report  SB 41 out  of committee                                                               
with  individual  recommendations  and  the  accompanying  fiscal                                                               
notes.  There  being no objection, SB 41 was  reported out of the                                                               
House Rules Standing Committee.                                                                                                 

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SB 41 version A.pdf HRLS 4/2/2019 11:30:00 AM
SJUD 2/11/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 41
SB041-JUD-ACS-01-30-19.pdf HRLS 4/2/2019 11:30:00 AM
SJUD 2/11/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 41
SB041 Sponsor Statement.pdf HRLS 4/2/2019 11:30:00 AM
SFIN 3/8/2019 9:00:00 AM
SJUD 2/11/2019 1:30:00 PM
SB 41