Legislature(2009 - 2010)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)

02/08/2010 01:30 PM JUDICIARY

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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Heard & Held
Heard & Held
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Moved CSSB 60(L&C) Out of Committee
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
         SB 246-INCREASING NUMBER OF SUPERIOR CT JUDGES                                                                     
2:36:20 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR FRENCH announced the consideration of SB 246.                                                                             
DOUG  WOOLIVER,  Administrative  Attorney, Alaska  Court  System,                                                               
said  that SB  246 adds  one superior  court judge  to the  Third                                                               
Judicial District.  That judge will  be located in  Anchorage and                                                               
will handle civil  cases. He explained that  this change requires                                                               
a bill because the number  of superior court judges is determined                                                               
in statute.                                                                                                                     
MR. WOOLIVER  said the  court could  justify three  more superior                                                               
court judges in Anchorage, but  they hope to make some procedural                                                               
reforms so that  one additional judge will suffice,  at least for                                                               
this  year.  He  related  that   a  couple  of  case  types,  not                                                               
additional  filings,  have  resulted in  increased  workload  for                                                               
superior  court judges.  These are  child in  need of  aid (CINA)                                                               
cases and  cases where one  or both parties are  unrepresented by                                                               
counsel. Judges are spending more  time on CINA cases now because                                                               
standing masters  are doing  less work.  Previously, a  CINA case                                                               
would come  to a standing  master and proceed through  the master                                                               
until it was  a contested hearing in which case  it would be sent                                                               
to  a superior  court  judge  temporarily and  then  back to  the                                                               
master.  That  system  saved  judge time  but  it  sent  families                                                               
bouncing back  and forth  between one judge  and the  master then                                                               
another  judge and  the master.  Superior court  judges have  the                                                               
ultimate  authority to  make  decisions in  CINA  cases, but  the                                                               
judge wasn't always familiar with  the case. More frequently, the                                                               
family  wasn't familiar  with  the judge  that  was deciding  the                                                               
case. The new practice in  Anchorage takes more time for superior                                                               
court judges  even though the  cases don't take  longer. Superior                                                               
court  judges are  spending more  time on  these cases,  which is                                                               
better for the families and the outcome of the case.                                                                            
MR. WOOLIVER said that CINA  cases also have more status hearings                                                               
than in the past. The way  the process works now is that families                                                               
are told  all the things  they have to do  in order to  get their                                                               
children  back. Judges  found,  largely  through the  therapeutic                                                               
court process, that  regular status hearings before  a judge keep                                                               
families focused on  what they need to do and  the judge informed                                                               
about  their progress.  This increases  the  likelihood that  the                                                               
family will  be reunited. These  two things are  keeping superior                                                               
court judges busier.                                                                                                            
2:39:56 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. WOOLIVER said that the other  case type that causes more work                                                               
for judges  is when parties  are unrepresented. In  divorce cases                                                               
about 80 percent  of people are unrepresented in  all post decree                                                               
motion work. When domestic relations  cases are first filed about                                                               
37  percent  have counsel  on  both  sides,  37 percent  have  no                                                               
counsel on either side, and about  25 percent have counsel on one                                                               
side but  not the  other. The  court has taken  steps to  make it                                                               
easier for people  who can't afford a lawyer to  access the court                                                               
system, but that takes more time.  By making it easier for pro se                                                               
litigants,  particularly with  the Family  Law Self-Help  Center,                                                               
more people go to court unrepresented.                                                                                          
Adding one superior court judge  will help the workload somewhat,                                                               
but the court  is also looking at less expensive  ways to improve                                                               
the  system  so  it  doesn't  have  to  ask  for  more  than  one                                                               
additional judge, he said.                                                                                                      
2:42:31 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR COGHILL  asked if therapeutic  courts are  similarly time                                                               
consuming or if these cases are on a different level.                                                                           
MR.  WOOLIVER   replied  they're  a  little   different.  In  the                                                               
therapeutic court  process it takes a  lot of time during  the 18                                                               
month program,  but the hope  is that it  won't take time  in the                                                               
future. In  contrast, custody cases  can be before the  court for                                                               
18 years. The  therapeutic approach with CINA  cases doesn't save                                                               
time,  but hopefully  better decisions  are  made increasing  the                                                               
likelihood that parents  will get their act  together and they'll                                                               
get their kids back.                                                                                                            
2:44:26 PM                                                                                                                    
THERESA OBERMEYER,  representing herself, said she  was motivated                                                               
to testify  when she learned that  SB 246 is about  creating more                                                               
judgeships.  "It's fine  with  me, but  I know  this  - it's  all                                                               
becoming so bureaucratic," she concluded.                                                                                       
CHAIR FRENCH held SB 246 in committee.                                                                                          
2:50:38 PM                                                                                                                    
There being no further business to come before the committee,                                                                   
Chair French adjourned the meeting at 2:50 p.m.                                                                                 

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SJR21 sponsor statement.pdf SFIN 3/15/2010 9:00:00 AM
SJUD 2/8/2010 1:30:00 PM
SJR 21
SJR 21 Population Trend 2010 districts.pdf SFIN 3/15/2010 9:00:00 AM
SJUD 2/8/2010 1:30:00 PM
SJR 21
Alaska Supreme Court. redistricting.pdf SFIN 3/15/2010 9:00:00 AM
SJUD 2/8/2010 1:30:00 PM
SJR 21
SB 210 Sponsor Statement - Military Child Custody.doc SJUD 2/8/2010 1:30:00 PM
SB 210
Resolution 106.pdf SJUD 2/8/2010 1:30:00 PM
SB 210
NAUS Military Divorce Rate Continues to Climb.docx SJUD 2/8/2010 1:30:00 PM
SB 210
Custody Map (10-23).ppt SJUD 2/8/2010 1:30:00 PM
SB 210