Legislature(2021 - 2022)BUTROVICH 205

05/05/2021 01:30 PM Senate JUDICIARY

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         SB 129-ELECTION PAMPHLET INFORMATION RE JUDGES                                                                     
1:33:45 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  HOLLAND announced  the consideration  of  SENATE BILL  NO.                                                               
129,  "An  Act  relating  to  information  on  judicial  officers                                                               
provided in election pamphlets."                                                                                                
1:34:02 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  MYERS,  speaking  as  the sponsor,  said  SB  129  would                                                               
provide  voters with  additional information  on judges  standing                                                               
for judicial  retention. Judges cannot campaign,  so voters often                                                               
lack  information  on  judges'   backgrounds.  Since  the  Alaska                                                               
Judicial  Council collects  information  on judges,  SB 129  will                                                               
require  additional background  information  be  included in  the                                                               
Division of Election voter pamphlet.                                                                                            
1:35:22 PM                                                                                                                    
THERESA  WOLDSTAD,  Staff,  Senator Robert  Myers,  Alaska  State                                                               
Legislature,  Juneau, Alaska,  began a  PowerPoint on  SB 129  on                                                               
behalf of  the sponsor.  She paraphrased slide  2 related  to the                                                               
judicial merit selection retention system:                                                                                      
         Alaska established a three-part judicial merit                                                                         
     selection and retention system.                                                                                            
        1.  Alaska Judicial  Council  screens and  nominates                                                                    
        judicial applicants  based on the  candidate's moral                                                                    
        character,   professional   competence,  and   legal                                                                    
        2. Alaska governor appoints from the list provided                                                                      
        by the Alaska Judicial Council.                                                                                         
        3. Alaska state voters determine whether a judicial                                                                     
        officer will remain on the bench during retention                                                                       
MS.    WOLDSTAD   reviewed    the    Alaska   Judicial    Council                                                               
recommendations on slide 3:                                                                                                     
        • The Alaska Judicial Council conducts extensive                                                                        
          performance evaluations, interviews, and public                                                                       
          • Surveys assess judicial integrity, temperament,                                                                     
             diligence, impartiality, legal ability, and                                                                        
             administrative skills                                                                                              
        • Based upon their research the council will decide                                                                     
          if they will recommend a judicial officer's                                                                           
          retention to the public.                                                                                              
        • The  Judicial   Council's    recommendation   is                                                                      
          published in the Alaska Official Election                                                                             
1:37:01 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. WOLDSTAD  reviewed slide 4,  Judicial Retention  and Election                                                               
Pamphlets, which depicted information  on judicial retention that                                                               
is typically included in the election pamphlet.                                                                                 
MS. WOLDSTAD  directed attention  to the table  on slide  5, that                                                               
summarizes information the Alaska  Judicial Council compiled from                                                               
the Judicial Performance Evaluation it conducted.                                                                               
She pointed  out that the Alaska  Judicial Council recommendation                                                               
indicates whether the judge should be retained.                                                                                 
MS.  WOLDSTAD reviewed  the  table on  slide  6, Alaska  Judicial                                                               
Council Recommendations  and Retention  Votes. She  reported that                                                               
voters  retained judges  about 33  percent of  the time  when the                                                               
Alaska  Judicial Council  recommended  a "No"  vote. However,  it                                                               
sometimes takes two  election cycles before the  judges are voted                                                               
out.  The  sponsor surmised  that  voters  might need  additional                                                               
information on  judicial performance  to make  informed decisions                                                               
at the polls.                                                                                                                   
1:38:06 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. WOLDSTAD read the goal of the bill shown on slide 7.                                                                        
   • The success of the system is based upon providing the                                                                      
     electorate critical information to make informed decisions                                                                 
     regarding judicial retention.                                                                                              
   • This legislation will add additional information already                                                                   
     collected by the Alaska Judicial Council to the Alaska                                                                     
     Official Election Pamphlet.                                                                                                
        • Information shall be provided except when required by                                                                 
          law to be kept confidential.                                                                                          
   • We are currently working [with] the Alaska Court System,                                                                   
     Division of Elections, and the Alaska Judicial Council to                                                                  
     assess word limitations and potential information to be                                                                    
CHAIR  HOLLAND asked  if the  sponsor would  like to  present the                                                               
sectional analysis of the bill.                                                                                                 
1:38:59 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  MYERS answered  no.  He  stated that  he  would like  to                                                               
provide  the  bill  concept  today,   that  he  anticipates  some                                                               
amendments to  the bill,  including ones  the division  and court                                                               
system suggested. He  stated his intention to  fine-tune the bill                                                               
by adding  specificities, such as  the judges'  affirmation rates                                                               
on appeals,  the types of clients,  or the cases they  handled in                                                               
their attorney practices. He  explained typical affirmation rates                                                               
for judges  often range in  the 80  percent range, so  voters may                                                               
wish to review  judges whose rates are 60 percent  or lower. This                                                               
downward trend  may indicate a lack  of voter trust. One  goal of                                                               
SB  129 is  to  restore  trust and  to  better  inform voters  on                                                               
judicial performance.  He suggested  that some  information, such                                                               
as the  law school they  attended and  the types of  clients they                                                               
served,  may   be  relevant  when  initially   assessing  judges.                                                               
However,  that  information  may  not be  needed  for  subsequent                                                               
retention elections.                                                                                                            
1:44:26 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR HUGHES asked  what type of information  might be relevant                                                               
for the first retention but  not subsequent ones. She wondered if                                                               
it  would  raise  any   constitutional  issues  to  differentiate                                                               
between them.                                                                                                                   
SENATOR  MYERS responded  that it  might be  helpful to  know the                                                               
judges' primary practice areas and  their primary clients for the                                                               
first  retention election.  Once  someone has  years of  judicial                                                               
experience, what  they did  20 years  ago seemed  superfluous and                                                               
the  court  system  agreed  that  information  might  not  be  as                                                               
1:46:28 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR SHOWER suggested that the  trend indicates people want to                                                               
be more  informed about  government. People tend  not to  know as                                                               
much  about  the  judiciary, so  providing  more  information  on                                                               
judges could  be beneficial. He  offered his view  that providing                                                               
more transparency in the system could help restore public faith.                                                                
1:48:17 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR KIEHL  recalled some items  that he considered  adding to                                                               
the voter  pamphlet. He  asked what value  voters would  get from                                                               
knowing which  law school  judges attended.  He wondered  if this                                                               
means someone who  goes to a prestigious law  school will receive                                                               
additional consideration.                                                                                                       
SENATOR MYERS  recalled that there  are about  3,000 universities                                                               
in  the US,  but only  about [200]  law schools,  so it's  a more                                                               
limited  pool. He  acknowledged  that the  location could  create                                                               
bias, but it could also provide  a perspective on the judges that                                                               
voters may find helpful.                                                                                                        
1:51:21 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR KIEHL asked  what level of granular  information on their                                                               
clients is  needed. He stated  that he  does not judge  or select                                                               
his doctors based on the patients they may have treated.                                                                        
SENATOR  MYERS said  the  point  is not  to  single out  specific                                                               
clients. Still,  it may be relevant  to know the general  area of                                                               
law an attorney practices to  highlight the attorney's experience                                                               
brought to the bench. For example,  it would be pertinent to know                                                               
if the  judges spent  most of  their legal  practice representing                                                               
oil companies or plaintiffs.                                                                                                    
1:53:14 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  HUGHES pointed  out that  the election  pamphlet already                                                               
lists  education and  political involvement  in the  biographical                                                               
information. She  asked if the  candidate or the  Alaska Judicial                                                               
Council provided that information.  She surmised that the current                                                               
information was at the discretion of the judicial candidates.                                                                   
SENATOR MYERS  acknowledged the information  on the left  side of                                                               
slide  4 was  discretionary information  the judicial  candidates                                                               
provided  to  the  Division of  Elections.  The  Alaska  Judicial                                                               
Council  provides judicial  evaluation  information per  specific                                                               
requirements.  He  suggested perhaps  melding  the  two pages  by                                                               
developing discretionary and  mandatory requirements. The surveys                                                               
from the Alaska  Judicial Council are available to  the public on                                                               
the council's website, but it does take time to find them.                                                                      
1:56:59 PM                                                                                                                    
NANCY  MEADE,  General  Counsel, Administrative  Offices,  Alaska                                                               
Court  System, Anchorage,  Alaska, stated  that the  court system                                                               
has  been  working  with  the  sponsor  to  address  privacy  and                                                               
security  concerns. Still,  it  is  not opposed  to  the bill  as                                                               
currently  written. She  stated her  intent to  continue to  work                                                               
with the sponsor on SB 129.                                                                                                     
1:57:40 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR HUGHES  asked if  those concerns  could be  remedied. She                                                               
asked her to elaborate on the privacy and security concerns.                                                                    
MS. MEADE referred  to page 2, lines 15 to  16, subparagraph (H),                                                               
which would  require the justices  or judges to  disclose clients                                                               
and employers of  members of the justice's  or judge's household.                                                               
She surmised that  some spouses might not wish  to disclose their                                                               
clients.  Further, disclosing  information could  create security                                                               
concerns, including  reporting that  a judge's  child works  at a                                                               
coffee shop.  Additionally, some spouses and  adult children have                                                               
different levels of privacy needs  and security concerns and will                                                               
not want their information published.                                                                                           
1:58:58 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  SHOWER  acknowledged  privacy  concerns  but  wanted  to                                                               
ensure that a  balance was struck. He suggested that  the bill be                                                               
as transparent  as possible within  specific parameters.  He said                                                               
public officials should be required  to submit to a certain level                                                               
of disclosure.                                                                                                                  
2:01:09 PM                                                                                                                    
SUSANNE  DIPIETRO, Executive  Director, Alaska  Judicial Council,                                                               
Alaska  Court  System,  Anchorage,  Alaska,  echoed  Ms.  Meade's                                                               
comment that  she has  been working with  the sponsor  to address                                                               
issues. She explained  that in 1978, the  Alaska Judicial Council                                                               
first  received the  authority to  put  information about  judges                                                               
standing  for  retention  in the  Division  of  Elections'  voter                                                               
pamphlets. At that time, the  council's submission was limited to                                                               
approximately  300 words.  The council's  evaluation process  was                                                               
less comprehensive.  The council conducted a  survey to determine                                                               
what information  voters wanted  before voting.  Voters responded                                                               
that the voter pamphlet information  was helpful, but they wanted                                                               
more  details.  Since   then,  the  council  has   built  up  the                                                               
information  in the  voter  pamphlet to  600  words. The  council                                                               
carefully  considers what  information best  reflects the  actual                                                               
performance of  judges. The council has  increased the evaluation                                                               
process,  conducting outreach  by posting  information on  social                                                               
platforms and  conducting five user  surveys instead of  only two                                                               
to three that  it undertook initially. These surveys  are sent to                                                               
jurors, court employees and the public.                                                                                         
2:03:59 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. DIPIETRO stated that feedback  the council receives indicates                                                               
that many  voters overlook judges  in the voter pamphlet,  so the                                                               
council provides  three layers of  information on its  website to                                                               
provide more  detailed information. Besides the  council's social                                                               
media  page,  it  uses  limited  paid  advertising  and  conducts                                                               
numerous presentations  to community  groups and  via television.                                                               
The council's efforts to reach  voters are ongoing but can always                                                               
be  improved.  At  the  sponsor's  request,  she  reviewed  voter                                                               
participation rates over the past  20 years. The number of voters                                                               
casting votes for or against  appellate judges has increased by 8                                                               
to 10  percent. In 2000,  about 78 or  80 percent of  voters cast                                                               
ballots for  judges. By 2020,  it grew to  80 to 86  percent. The                                                               
council would like  it to be 100 percent, she  said. In 2020, the                                                               
voters also cast  the highest percentage of yes  votes for judges                                                               
in the  past 20  years. She surmised  that social  media outreach                                                               
has primarily  helped inform voters on  judicial retention votes.                                                               
She said  she shares the concerns  that Ms. Meade raised  on page                                                               
2, lines 15 to 16 of SB 129.                                                                                                    
2:08:11 PM                                                                                                                    
[SB 129 was held in committee.]