By DAVID IGNELL
In 1956, Alaska’s founders expected that subsequent constitutional conventions would be necessary. Fairbanks delegate Warren Taylor said, “I think the next Constitutional Convention will possibly have a little better idea than we have now.” Homer delegate Yule Kilcher agreed with Taylor and remarked our constitution wasn’t as spectacular as some thought, and even minor matters should be taken up at the next convention.
When billions in oil money started flowing into our government, the legal system our founders set up got hijacked. The Alaska Supreme Court began defying our Alaska Constitution. Their disdain for the peoples’ rights trickled down into the ranks of prosecutors and law enforcement.
Since judges and lawyers are self-regulating, the lawlessness spread like wildfire. A cartel like structure developed and ethical lawyers became silenced in fear. Today, their Rules of Professional Conduct and Code of Judicial Conduct gather dust.
At risk are the unwealthy, particularly Alaska Natives, who account for 40% of our prison population. Many of them have been denied unbiased investigations, fair trials, and juries of their peers. They’re helpless against prosecutors who coerce unfair plea bargains to pad career stats.
Also at risk are grand juries, which have an unlimited right to investigate all government entities and make recommendations concerning the public welfare. In 1988 three Supreme Court judges proved their disdain for the Constitution by forcing through Court Rule 6.1 that illegally curtailed grand jury reports. They overruled their two colleagues who were adamant Rule 6.1 was unconstitutional. It’s unsound government policy when we have no safeguard against outlaw judges.
Illegal Court Rule 6.1 remains in effect today, hindering transparency in government affairs.
For instance, many Anchorage readers may recall the sexual abuse scandal that exploded at Bartlett High School in 1989. Those same three Supreme Court judges, unaccountable to voters, prevented the public from reading the grand jury’s investigative report and learning the truth. Those judges even defied the Anchorage Daily News, whose editors once stood for the people but now protect successive waves of our outlaw judges. Truth has taken a back seat to politics.
While writing my recent book on the Alaska Grand Jury, I gained tremendous respect for our original delegates. Yule Kilcher, Mildred Hermann, Ed Davis, and Marvin “Muktuk” Marston gave compelling speeches at the convention promoting justice and equality for all Alaskans. They would be horrified today at our legal system.
Marston would be particularly dismayed with our embarrassing prison statistics. He spoke of an “Arctic friend” of his who had been wrongfully imprisoned without the money to defend himself. Marston supported the grand jury because without it, his friend would have “lost his job and been a derelict on the shores of white man’s civilization.” Marston wouldn’t stand for a judicial system that has enabled Wasilla’s Goose Creek and Juneau’s Lemon Creek to become new sites of our largest villages.
Before statehood, Alaska judges were appointed by the federal government. Our founders hoped the Alaska Judicial Council appointment system would be an improvement. The Alaska Judicial Council consists of four lawyers from the Alaska Bar Association and three non-lawyers who decide what two candidates will pass through to the governor. Our founders were familiar with a different Alaska Bar Association in 1956; it wasn’t dominated by politics and took its ethical obligations seriously.
The model behind our Alaska Judicial Council system was an unproven experiment known as the “Missouri Plan.” Introduced during World War II, Missouri’s appellate judges were determined by a panel of lawyers. For trial judges however, voters in each county were given the option to either elect them or let the lawyers decide. Over the last 75 years, only 5 of Missouri’s 115 counties have opted for the lawyers. It speaks volumes that 96% of Missouri counties have preserved their right to vote for trial judges.
Delegate Robert McNealy, a Fairbanks lawyer, predicted “this appointment method will bring judges into politics more so than an election by the people.” Time has proven him right. Several years ago, the Wall Street Journal observed, “Missouri’s courts are every bit as hung up in politics as they are in other states. The difference is that in Missouri the process happens behind closed doors.”
We’re worse off. Alaska Judicial Council deliberations aren’t open to the public either, but we can’t even vote for our trial judges.
The Alaska Bar Association has transitioned into an elite trade group for the wealthy, increasingly influenced by its growing ranks of highly paid government lawyers who thirst for even more unchecked power. Forbes estimates a law school degree costs about $200,000 – most Alaskans can’t afford that. Political influences on the Alaska Bar Association and the four Alaska Judicial Council lawyers end up determining how the law will be applied to you and 730,000 other Alaskans.
We must seal up the back door into our government this unelected oligarchy has tunneled.
Alaskans can best hold our judges accountable to the Constitution by giving voters the power to choose them. That’s how our closest neighbors to the south do it — Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. They elect all judges in non-partisan elections.
The clear intent of our founders is found at the beginning of our Constitution, “All political power is inherent in the people.” We currently have no power to hold outlaw judges and government lawyers accountable and will need a new constitutional convention to correct their bold abuse of our Founders’ trust.
Don’t let the well-funded fear mongers compromise your independent Alaskan mind. They speak for special interest groups that have exploited the weaknesses in our Constitution and infested our government. Their opposition to giving the people the final say over our Constitution says it all.
Vote “YES” to restore democracy and justice in Alaska.
David Ignell is a forensic journalist at www.poweredbyjustice.com – Public Advocacy And Justice For All Alaskans.