Story last updated at 2:04 p.m. Thursday, May 9, 2002

Feedback sought on judicial system
by Joel Gay
Staff Writer

Got a beef with a decision by Judge Francis Neville, or was she the model of blind justice? How was your experience as a juror? How about that visiting judge from Kenai, how impartial was he?

Alaska voters do not elect judges, but every two years they vote to retain or dismiss those who mete out justice in their communities. Before the election, the Alaska Judicial Council rates every judge on the ballot.

On Monday, Homer area residents can tell the council how they view the Alaska judicial system, contributing their two cents to the ratings that many voters will use to make their judgments on the judges.

The statewide teleconference is from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Homer Legislative Information Office.

Larry Cohn, a former Homer District Court judge who is now the executive director of the judicial council, said Alaska is one of only a handful of states in which voters can remove a judge from the bench.

"It's powerful," he said. "It's happened very infrequently, but it's happened. It affords some accountability."

The judicial council was created to help voters make up their minds about their judges, Cohn said. It is similar to the Alaska Board of Fisheries or the Local Boundary Commission in that it is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Alaska Legislature. It has seven members <> three lawyers, three non-lawyers, and the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, who only votes to break a tie.

Not every judge comes before voters every two years, Cohn said. Supreme Court justices only appear every 10 years, appeals court judges are on the ballot every eight years, superior courts are every six years and district court judges every four years.

The council rates judges by surveying some 10,000 Alaskans involved in the judicial process, including attorneys, social workers, law enforcement officers, courthouse workers and everyone called up for jury duty.

But every Alaskan can weigh in, as well, Cohn said, and Monday is their chance.

This summer, the council will review the surveys and rate each judge. The ratings will appear in the handbook mailed to every voter this fall.

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