How the Commission Operates
Filing a Complaint
While the Commission can initiate its own investigation, any person can also file a complaint against a state judge with the Commission. A form is not necessary, but the complaint has to be in writing with a signature and should include enough information to enable the Commission staff to begin an investigation. Necessary information includes: the judge's name, the conduct complained of, a case number if it involves a court case, and the names of others present or aware of the facts. Complaints should be mailed or faxed to:
Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct, 510 L Street, Suite 585, Anchorage, Alaska 99501
Commission staff will be happy to assist anyone in writing their complaints.
Soon after a complaint is filed, the Commission will review the accusation. Commission staff will often interview the person who filed the complaint to determine the facts giving rise to the complaint. After the initial inquiry, the Commission may conduct a full investigation. All complaints within the Commission's legal authority are investigated further. If the charge is found to be without merit, an accusation against a judge may be dismissed by the Commission during the investigation. If a preliminary investigation supports the complaint, a formal investigation begins. It is at this stage that the judge involved is informed of the complaint. A formal investigation includes an interview with the judge.
Complaints filed with the Commission and all Commission inquiries and investigations are confidential. If the Commission finds that probable cause exists that a judge has committed misconduct, a formal statement of charges is issued. The statement of charges is public information. Some time after the formal charges issue, the Commission will hold an open public formal hearing on the matter. At that hearing, Special Counsel (hired by the Commission) presents the case against the judge. The judge is often represented by an attorney who presents that judge's defenses. The full Commission usually sits as decision makers in the matter and renders a decision that may include recommendations to the Alaska Supreme Court for sanctions against the judge. The results of a Commission proceeding are public when Commission recommendations are made to the supreme court.
The Commission's decision may be to: exonerate the judge of the charge or charges; recommend counseling; or recommend that the supreme court take formal action. The Alaska Supreme Court may impose one of the following sanctions against the judge: suspension, removal, retirement, public or private censure, reprimand,* or admonishment. (*The Commission on Judicial Conduct originally had statutory authority to issue reprimands without actions by the Alaska Supreme Court. That power was held to be unconstitutional by Inquiry Concerning a Judge, 762 P.2d 1292 (1988).)
Rules of Procedure
The Commission's operations are governed by its own Rules of Procedure. While the statutes relating to the Commission broadly outline the Commission's responsibilities, the Rules of Procedure define how the Commission operates. In 1991, the Commission revised its rules clarifying many rules and increasing their scope. Some rules continued to be refined and modified in the past few years.
The rules are more comprehensive and specific in such areas as: discovery, evidence, motions, role of the chair, executive director's role and authority, contempt powers, standards for reopening complaints, and deliberative process. In addition, rules changes were needed to conform to new legislation.
Rules revisions were circulated for public comment prior to their adoption. The Commission's efforts are directed towards improving its public responsiveness, creating the fairest procedures, and fulfilling its directive under the state constitution.
The Commission staff currently consists of an executive director, and an administrative assistant.
Commission Finances and Budget
The Commission's finances are planned according to the state fiscal year (July 1 - June 30). Each year the Commission on Judicial Conduct submits its budget request to the legislature. The Commission's resources are appropriated from general state operating funds.
At the Commission's request, the House Judiciary Committee introduced a bill in 1989 that would open the Commission's formal hearings to the public. House Bill 268, passed in May 1990, also establishes a constant time period of six years for complaints against judges to be filed with the Commission. (The former law required a period of not more than six years before the start of the judge's current term; creating different time limits for different judges.) The bill also explicitly includes part-time or temporary judges within the Commission's authority. As a result of this bill's passage, all Commission formal hearings and recommendations to the Alaska Supreme Court are open to the public. The public will become aware of the evidence presented and the action taken by the Commission in future hearings. The public will also be aware of charges that are not supported by evidence and exoneration of these charges.