To illustrate how these ratings work, we'll use Judge Richard Postma as an example, because he's the one judge the AJC does not recommend for retention based upon a four-page ethics complaint available HERE. You can read the previous background on this case in my posts from May 5th, 2010 and May 7th, 2010. There is a growing possibility that Judge Postma may be the target of a witch hunt by a disaffected court employee:
Ratings range from 1=Poor to 5=Excellent. Alaska Judicial Observers rated him 2.86.
Here's part of the AJC's narrative (after the jump):
After becoming aware of concerns about Anchorage District Court Judge Richard Postma’s judicial performance, the Alaska Judicial Council conducted an independent review and met with Judge Postma to provide him with an opportunity to be heard. After that review and meeting, the Judicial Council found that Judge Postma has experienced persistent difficulty in coping with the Anchorage District Court caseload and stressful situations. Judge Postma has lacked patience, dignity, and courtesy in his communications which has contributed to constant friction between Judge Postma and other judges, court administrators, and court staff. Judge Postma has a tendency to lose his temper. Judge Postma’s characterization of past events has often been inconsistent with other documented information. Judge Postma has prioritized his personal needs over his judicial responsibilities.
A different and separate state entity, the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct has constitutional responsibility to address problems of judicial conduct and responsibility. The Commission has found probable cause that Judge Postma violated Alaska law and Alaska’s Code of Judicial Conduct by engaging in inappropriate communications with fellow judges and court staff and by willfully violating confidentiality requirements. The Commission has also found probable cause that Judge Postma’s personal needs take precedence over his judicial duties and require unreasonable accommodations. An independent mental health expert retained by the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct has determined that Judge Postma suffers from a combination of mental health difficulties that is or may become permanent and which render him unable to fulfill the duties of his office.
The Alaska Court System, a third independent constitutional body, unsuccessfully attempted to work with Judge Postma to improve the situation. The court decreased the judge’s responsibilities, placed the judge on paid administrative leave, and temporarily assigned the judge to a different venue. These efforts have not been successful in improving Judge Postma’s ability to function as a judge on the Anchorage District Court.
Judges must be fair and judicial in the courtroom and in their conduct off the bench. The Alaska Judicial Council concludes that, while performing acceptably on the bench, Judge Postma demonstrated an inability to function appropriately with other judges and court staff and that he did so in a manner that seriously interfered with the performance of his judicial duties, disrupted the functioning of the Anchorage District Court, and makes him unfit to retain his office. The Judicial Council finds Judge Postma to be Unqualified and recommends with a 5-1 vote that the public vote "NO" on his retention as a district court judge.
However, Alaska Voices columnist Kevin Clarkson, a practicing attorney, suggests that voters don't jump on the "No" bandwagon. He believes a "No" vote to sweep Postma out of office may cover up some shenanigans in the local judiciary. Clarkson cites numerous examples of other judges who respect him, as well as jurors who praised his courtroom demeanor. Clarkson also notes that Judge Postma has been questioning the amount of "judge-shopping" taking place. Clarkson says that Judge Postma revealed that if the calendaring clerk likes a particular prosecutor or defense counsel, she will assign them to a judge who has complimented that attorney. If she dislikes an attorney, she will assign that attorney's case to a judge who also dislikes the attorney. And, according to Judge Postma, attorneys get into the assignments as well. For example, he says that judges are assigned to hear bail hearings for a week at a time. Because cases are not assigned to judges at arraignments, several different judges may handle an individual defendant's bail conditions.
According to Judge Postma, if a prosecutor or defense counsel realizes that a judge is about to make an adverse bail ruling, they ask for a delay knowing that in the next few days another judge will be in hearing bail matters, and will have to start the bail hearing anew. And, because the district court rotation through jail court is known, attorneys on both sides can and do judge shop. He says that the manipulations at times are obvious. According to Judge Postma, the real reason this whole matter has come to a head in the way that it has is because in February 2009 Judge Postma complained about it. Up until then, judges (more than simply Judge Postma had gripes about the District Court calendaring process) kept their gripes to themselves.
What's disturbing is that Judge Postma's accusers are questioning his mental stability as well. That's a page torn out of the book of the old Soviet Union, where dissidents were hospitalized for alleged "mental illness". This whole sequence is starting to smell.