Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/01/2004 01:10 PM House JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 451 - THERAPEUTIC COURTS                                                                                                   
Number 0088                                                                                                                     
CHAIR McGUIRE  announced that the  first order of  business would                                                               
be HOUSE  BILL NO. 451,  "An Act relating to  therapeutic courts;                                                               
and providing for an effective date."                                                                                           
Number 0092                                                                                                                     
DOUG  WOOLIVER,  Administrative Attorney,  Administrative  Staff,                                                               
Office  of  the  Administrative  Director,  Alaska  Court  System                                                               
(ACS), explained  that HB 451  was introduced by the  House Rules                                                               
Standing  Committee  by  request  of   the  ACS.    Mr.  Wooliver                                                               
paraphrased  portions of  the  written  sponsor statement,  which                                                               
read in part [original punctuation provided]:                                                                                   
     HB  451 extends  the  termination dates  for two  pilot                                                                    
     therapeutic court programs until  after a planned study                                                                    
     of those courts has been  completed and reviewed by the                                                                    
     legislature.  The bill also  removes a sunset clause on                                                                    
     the Anchorage  superior court  judge position  that was                                                                    
     added, in part, to  administer one of those therapeutic                                                                    
     In   2001  the   legislature  passed   HB  172,   which                                                                    
     established   felony-level    therapeutic   courts   in                                                                    
     Anchorage  and Bethel.   Each  court  was set  up as  a                                                                    
     pilot program  scheduled to run  for three years.   The                                                                    
     Anchorage court  admits those with a  felony conviction                                                                    
     for  driving  under  the   influence  of  an  alcoholic                                                                    
     beverage,  inhalant,  or  controlled  substance  (DUI).                                                                    
     The  Bethel  court  admits those  convicted  of  either                                                                    
     felony  DUI  or  certain  felony drug  offenses.    The                                                                    
     findings section  of HB 172  explained the  purposes of                                                                    
     these courts:                                                                                                              
          The purposes of therapeutic courts are lasting                                                                        
          sobriety of offenders, protection of society from                                                                     
          alcohol-related and drug-related crime, prompt                                                                        
          payment of restitution to victims of crimes,                                                                          
          effective interaction and use of resources among                                                                      
          criminal justice and community agencies, and                                                                          
          long-term reduction of costs relating to arrest,                                                                      
          trial, and incarceration.                                                                                             
MR. WOOLIVER  pointed out that  these two felony DUI  courts were                                                               
largely modeled after the pioneering  work done by Judge James N.                                                               
Wanamaker,  Anchorage  District  Court,  who  has  a  misdemeanor                                                               
wellness court  that deals  with misdemeanant  alcohol defenders.                                                               
This therapeutic  court grew out  of a trial  judge's frustration                                                               
with  a  system that  doesn't  work  for those  with  significant                                                               
alcohol abuse problems.   Mr. Wooliver said  that Judge Wanamaker                                                               
has had a  great deal of success with his  wellness court, adding                                                               
that  the desire  of  Judge Wanamaker  and  Brian Porter,  former                                                               
Speaker  of  the  House  of  Representatives,  was  to  determine                                                               
whether  the   success  at  the   misdemeanant  level   could  be                                                               
replicated at the felony level.                                                                                                 
Number 0301                                                                                                                     
MR. WOOLIVER  returned to the  sponsor statement  and paraphrased                                                               
the following portions of it [original punctuation provided]:                                                                   
     In  order  to  determine  the  effectiveness  of  these                                                                    
     courts   the   Judicial   Council  was   charged   with                                                                    
     evaluating them and publishing  a study for legislative                                                                    
     review.   Unfortunately, both the Anchorage  and Bethel                                                                    
     programs   sunset  long   before   the  evaluation   is                                                                    
     scheduled to  be completed and,  because the  report is                                                                    
     to be  published in July,  many months more  before the                                                                    
     legislature   has  an   opportunity   to  review   that                                                                    
     evaluation.     If   the  legislature   looks  at   the                                                                    
     evaluation study  and decides that the  programs should                                                                    
     continue,  it will  be too  late;  both programs  would                                                                    
     have ended more than a year earlier.                                                                                       
     In  order  to fix  this  problem,  HB 451  extends  the                                                                    
     termination date of the pilot  programs until after the                                                                    
     legislature  has had  an  opportunity  to review  their                                                                    
     House Bill 451  also removes a sunset clause  in HB 172                                                                    
     that will terminate the  Anchorage superior court judge                                                                    
     position that  was added by  that bill.  The  new judge                                                                    
     was  necessary  not   only  to  do  the   work  of  the                                                                    
     therapeutic court  but also to help  absorb the growing                                                                    
     felony caseload  in Anchorage.  The  sunset clause will                                                                    
     take  effect   this  summer  at   the  same   time  the                                                                    
     therapeutic  court program  is scheduled  to end.   Not                                                                    
     only will that  mean the end of  the felony therapeutic                                                                    
     court, it will  also mean that Anchorage  will have one                                                                    
     less  judge  for  other  superior   court  work.    The                                                                    
     therapeutic  court judge  in Anchorage  spends most  of                                                                    
     her time  on general  superior court work  unrelated to                                                                    
     therapeutic  court  cases.   If  we  lose the  judicial                                                                    
     position  it will  impact all  superior court  cases in                                                                    
     The loss  of a superior  court judge in  Anchorage will                                                                    
     return   us  to   the   number   of  judges   initially                                                                    
     established  in  1984.   Since  that  time  the  felony                                                                    
     caseload  in  Anchorage   has  increased  approximately                                                                    
     100%.   We  simply  cannot afford  to  lose a  superior                                                                    
     court position  in Anchorage and  to return to  a level                                                                    
     of  judicial coverage  that  was  appropriate 20  years                                                                    
Number 0540                                                                                                                     
LEONARD  R. DEVANEY  III, Judge,  4th  Judicial District  Bethel,                                                               
Superior  Court,   Alaska  Court   System  (ACS),   informed  the                                                               
committee that  he spends  approximately 80  percent of  his time                                                               
dealing with the general superior  court caseload.  He noted that                                                               
the Bethel  judicial district is  the third highest in  the state                                                               
with regard  to the number of  trials.  Judge Devaney  noted that                                                               
his court,  which started in June  2002, has had 55  people enter                                                               
the program,  seven of which  are to graduate [soon]  and another                                                               
seven  are  expected  to  graduate  June  1st.    The  court  has                                                               
experienced wonderful  success.  About  100 percent of  the cases                                                               
involve alcohol  or drugs, he  noted.  Judge Devaney  showcased a                                                               
recent 65-year-old  graduate who  had 11 DUIs,  three misdemeanor                                                               
assaults, one  felony assault, a  couple of  criminal trespasses,                                                               
and  a few  disorderly  conducts.   This  gentleman has  remained                                                               
sober for two years now and  is working.  Judge Devaney concluded                                                               
by  encouraging the  committee to  support  continued funding  so                                                               
that the courts can determine  whether the therapeutic courts are                                                               
as successful as is believed.                                                                                                   
Number 0716                                                                                                                     
STEPHANIE E.  JOANNIDES, Judge, 3rd Judicial  District Anchorage,                                                               
Superior Court,  Alaska Court System (ACS),  encouraged committee                                                               
members  to observe  these therapeutic  courts.   She highlighted                                                               
that  judges,  prosecutors,   and  defense  attorneys  throughout                                                               
Alaska are constantly frustrated  by recidivism.  The therapeutic                                                               
courts are  actually working,  she related.   Across  the country                                                               
there are  over 1,000  drug courts,  after which  the therapeutic                                                               
courts  are modeled,  in operation.   The  results in  Alaska are                                                               
consistent with those  in the Lower 48.   Judge Joannides related                                                               
that  in  Anchorage's therapeutic  court,  she  has seen  mothers                                                               
reunited  with their  children and  pregnant  women not  drinking                                                               
during their  pregnancy.  She  recalled that about  two-thirds of                                                               
those in  her program are repeat  felony offenders.  "I  could go                                                               
on and on about the successes  and the fact that these courts are                                                               
really  rebuilding  the lives  of  people  who have  very  little                                                               
hope," she said.                                                                                                                
Number 0934                                                                                                                     
LINDA  WILSON, Deputy  Director,  Public  Defender Agency  (PDA),                                                               
Department  of Administration  (DOA),  announced  support for  HB
451.   She said she believes  it's important to continue  the two                                                               
[therapeutic  courts]   until  the  results  of   the  study  are                                                               
available.   Ms.  Wilson assured  the committee  that therapeutic                                                               
courts aren't  an easy way for  defendants because a lot  of work                                                               
and  commitment  is  required  of  the  defendant.    Ms.  Wilson                                                               
reiterated support  for HB  451, adding  that [the  PDA] supports                                                               
therapeutic courts in general.                                                                                                  
Number 1030                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON moved  to report HB 451  out of committee                                                               
with  individual  recommendations  and  the  accompanying  fiscal                                                               
note.   There being no  objection, HB  451 was reported  from the                                                               
House Judiciary Standing Committee.                                                                                             

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