The Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct was sent into conflict today after the executive director declared she would not draft a letter to the Supreme Court, as she had offered to do for the Commission during its last meeting on Dec. 13. She thinks the action is wrong and said it was outside the commission’s authority.
Executive Director Marla Greenstein submitted her refusal letter to the commission, telling them that the request they were making of the Supreme Court, to have a private conversation about what they meant when they said the court system is racist, is not in the jurisdiction of the Judicial Conduct Commission.
Greenstein, in her letter of Dec. 15, wrote, “At the Commission’s meeting on Friday, in public session on a vote of 5 to 3, the Commission decided to invite the members of the Alaska Supreme Court to meet with the Commission to discuss their June ‘Statement to Alaskans.'”
The “Statement to Alaskans” dealt with systemic racism and justice and the need for the Alaska Judicial System to do better.
“I offered to do an initial draft of the invitation. That effort has presented some difficulties,” Greenstein wrote.
“In an effort to ground our invitation in our Rules and Statutes, it seems unclear that this type of invitation fits within the scope of the Commission’s authority,” Greenstein wrote. She cited Rule 6, which lays out the various roles of the Commission, and said the rule does not envision an invitation to have a conversation with the Supreme Court.
“My understanding of the court’s statement is that it was issued by the Supreme Court as a body, in its role as head of the Judicial Branch. While members of the public or of this Commission might disagree with the wisdom of the Court’s issuance of the statement, it does not appear to raise an issue of Judicial Conduct and Ethics for our Commission. As my duties include interpreting statutes and providing legal opinions to the Commission related to its duties, it is my opinion that the motion adopted at Friday’s meeting is likely outside the scope of the statute.”
The commission chair, Judge Erin Marsten, appeared to have engineered with Greenstein a rolling of the 5-3 majority, which had voted in favor of a motion to invite an executive session conversation with the Supreme Court about their “Statement to Alaskans.” The motion, made by Commissioner Robert Sheldon, was phrased in such a way that the Supremes could simply have refused the invitation.
On Tuesday, the commission argued back and forth, with Marsten taking issue with Sheldon, and with Judge Paul Roetman of Kotzebue often not audible due to technical issues, and then went into executive session to discuss the matter further.
The quickly scheduled meeting on Tuesday had not been legally advertised by the executive director, noted Commissioner Sheldon. There was no agenda for today’s meeting. Sheldon said that Greenstein was taking on the role of a commissioner, rather than as the director and he called it an “opaque, rushed and sloppy process” by which the meeting was called.
Ultimately the body decided to postpone the entire question to the March regularly scheduled meeting.
Before executive session, one judge serving on the commission, William Carey of Ketchikan, noted he reluctantly had voted for the invitation to the Supreme Court justices, but that he would not do so again after having second thoughts. That puts the current commission at a 4-4 position on the matter, with one member not yet on the record.
Toward the end of the meeting Greenstein said that one of the commissioners, Jeannine Jabaay, had a term expiring in March and is being replaced by the governor, which puts her vote, which was in favor of the invitation, in a questionable position for the March 26 meeting.