Legislature(2009 - 2010)

04/07/2010 02:43 PM Senate JUD

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               HB  52-POST-TRIAL JUROR COUNSELING                                                                           
VICE-CHAIR WIELECHOWSKI announced the consideration of HB 52.                                                                   
2:51:30 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE BETH  KERTTULA, sponsor of  HB 52, said  this bill                                                               
came  about because  a  friend came  to her  after  serving on  a                                                               
particularly  difficult jury.  When  the jurors  asked the  court                                                               
about counseling they were told there was none to be offered.                                                                   
She  said she  worked initially  with the  court, but  ultimately                                                               
decided that  it would  be best to  introduce legislation.  HB 52                                                               
would allow  up to 10  hours of  counseling for jury  members who                                                               
serve  on  particularly  gruesome   and  graphic  cases  and  are                                                               
traumatized as a result.                                                                                                        
MINDY LOBAUGH, representing herself, Juneau, said that HB 52                                                                    
represents a bridge, a bridge that she and many other jurors did                                                                
not have at the end of a traumatic trial. She went on to say:                                                                   
     You  arrive at  the courthouse;  you're given  detailed                                                                    
     instructions of what is expected  of you as a juror and                                                                    
     how  the process  of the  trial works.  What the  court                                                                    
     system  does not  do is  transition jurors  out of  the                                                                    
     trial.  It  is  not  uncommon to  have  major  criminal                                                                    
     trials run  for many days. I  served as a juror  on the                                                                    
     Rachelle  Waterman  trial  four years  ago.  It  lasted                                                                    
     approximately  10  days. For  me,  I  arrived open  and                                                                    
     ready to do my civic duty as a juror.                                                                                      
     For 10 days, prosecutors  went into excruciating detail                                                                    
     to   help  the   jurors   relive  the   events  of   an                                                                    
     unsuspecting  mother getting  abducted  from her  home,                                                                    
     tortured, and  finally murdered.  It was then  our duty                                                                    
     to  determine  if  the  defendant,  her  daughter,  was                                                                    
     guilty of  masterminding this  tragedy against  a woman                                                                    
     who was  a pillar of her  community. By the end  of the                                                                    
     trial,  I  left  there  as a  victim,  feeling  closed,                                                                    
     mentally battered,  and very traumatized by  the burden                                                                    
     of knowledge I now carry.                                                                                                  
     I am  here to  tell you  the media  does not  even come                                                                    
     close to covering the depth  of this trial. As a juror,                                                                    
     we had  access to piles  of emails detailing  out every                                                                    
     various way these  men planned to kill  the mother; the                                                                    
     physical  evidence; the  photographs;  and, of  course,                                                                    
     the hours of testimony.                                                                                                    
2:54:32 PM                                                                                                                    
     For quite  some time  during and following  that trial,                                                                    
     eating,  for me,  was a  near impossibility  because of                                                                    
     the constant nausea  I felt. To my  friends and family,                                                                    
     I became a stranger, and  each night I prayed myself to                                                                    
     sleep. One  of my  fellow jury-mates was  pregnant with                                                                    
     her second  child - she  had shared her  excitement and                                                                    
     the ultrasound pictures with us  early on in the trial.                                                                    
     By the end  of the trial, she lost her  baby and had to                                                                    
     be excused from  the trial. When this  trial ended with                                                                    
     a  hung jury,  I turned  to the  presiding judge  and I                                                                    
     asked if  the courts offer  some kind of  counseling or                                                                    
     process  to  help  jurors deal  with  the  traumatizing                                                                    
     information. The  answer was  no. For  me, it  was like                                                                    
     having a  door slammed  in my face.  There would  be no                                                                    
     help  in  transitioning back  to  my  life before  this                                                                    
     trial, no bridge. Rather, I  would have to move forward                                                                    
     with the  dark knowledge. It  was at this point  I felt                                                                    
     the  court had  failed me  as  a juror  doing my  civic                                                                    
     Please help me to build  the bridge by supporting HB 52                                                                    
     -  Post-Trial Jury  Counseling.  I may  not have  found                                                                    
     closure with respect  to this trial, but  maybe you can                                                                    
     bridge that  for future jurors  doing their  civic duty                                                                    
     by passing HB 52.                                                                                                          
VICE-CHAIR   WIELECHOWSKI   thanked   her  for   her   compelling                                                               
SENATOR COGHILL asked if she got counseling on her own.                                                                         
MS. LOBAUGH  replied she did,  but not immediately. Early  on she                                                               
simply  wanted to  hide  and not  talk about  it  again. Now  she                                                               
realizes that  counseling would have helped  her understand right                                                               
away that what she was doing was counterproductive.                                                                             
SENATOR COGHILL asked  if the timeframe suggested in  the bill is                                                               
sufficient  to negotiate  strategies for  dealing with  traumatic                                                               
court cases.                                                                                                                    
MS.  LOBAUGH said  she believes  that ten  hours is  a reasonable                                                               
amount of time  to start the process. In that  time a juror could                                                               
be  evaluated by  a professional  and get  some tools  that would                                                               
help them  get back to their  life. For those who  are fortunate,                                                               
ten hours may be enough to finish that process.                                                                                 
SENATOR  COGHILL said  he asked  because she  received counseling                                                               
and would  have a  good idea  about whether or  not ten  hours is                                                               
MS.  LOBAUGH  said   she  would  have  found  ten   hours  to  be                                                               
2:57:53 PM                                                                                                                    
LAUREE MORTON, Program Coordinator,  Council on Domestic Violence                                                               
and Sexual  Assault (CDVSA), Department  of Public  Safety (DPS),                                                               
said she doesn't  believe that CDVSA had looked at  HB 52, but as                                                               
a private citizen  she believes that it's very  important to help                                                               
people process traumatic events. When  people are willing to come                                                               
forward to  do service,  they should have  some help  after their                                                               
service is complete  if it's needed because most  people in their                                                               
daily lives aren't exposed what they'll  see and hear in a murder                                                               
or assault or other traumatic trial.  It's a fair offering to our                                                               
citizens, she said.                                                                                                             
2:59:40 PM                                                                                                                    
DOUGLAS WOOLIVER,  Administrative Attorney, Alaska  Court System,                                                               
introduced himself.                                                                                                             
SENATOR  MCGUIRE  asked if  he  can  envision administering  this                                                               
bill.  She suggested  that jurors  who serve  on cases  involving                                                               
horrific  crimes should  automatically  receive  a handout  about                                                               
services that may be available to  help them deal with the trauma                                                               
they may  be experiencing. They  shouldn't need to ask  for this,                                                               
she said.                                                                                                                       
MR. WOOLIVER  said he's heard judges  say that if this  bill were                                                               
to pass they  would speak to the jurors that  had served on these                                                               
kinds of cases  and let them know that  counseling was available.                                                               
The court  may in  fact already  have a  list of  counselors that                                                               
they've contracted with, he said.  But the broader question is if                                                               
all jurors  should be given a  handout at the end  of every trial                                                               
because he can  imagine that even some  run-of-the-mill cases are                                                               
difficult for  some people to sit  in on. He said  he'd take that                                                               
suggestion back to the court.                                                                                                   
3:02:05 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR WIELECHOWSKI asked how this would be administered.                                                                        
MR. WOOLIVER  said the  court tried this  twice in  Southeast and                                                               
because it was a little out of  the ordinary it involved a bit of                                                               
scrambling,  but it  basically involved  going through  the small                                                               
procurement  process. If  HB 52  were  to pass,  the court  would                                                               
probably have a list of providers  who had agreed to do this work                                                               
for  jurors.  He noted  that  oftentimes  it  would be  on  short                                                               
SENATOR COGHILL  asked if there  would be some  accommodation for                                                               
the jurors  who say they need  more than ten hours  of counseling                                                               
and if there might be some indigent pay.                                                                                        
MR. WOOLIVER replied  they pay for a lot of  things but none that                                                               
he can think  of that are time limited. This  would be similar to                                                               
insurance coverage that  covers X amount of  something and beyond                                                               
that it's not covered. In this  situation the state would pay for                                                               
a certain amount of service, but not beyond that.                                                                               
3:04:45 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR COGHILL  observed that any  time there's a time  limit it                                                               
creates a liability  issue because somebody will  say they needed                                                               
more. It appears that this could  put the court under a liability                                                               
and to  this point  the state hasn't  accepted any  liability for                                                               
peoples' reactions to doing their civic duty.                                                                                   
MR. WOOLIVER said  he needs to think about that  a bit because he                                                               
isn't sure that it does creates a liability.                                                                                    
SENATOR  MCGUIRE  said the  feedback  she's  received about  jury                                                               
service  is  that  it's underappreciated.  For  example,  parking                                                               
isn't  provided and  nobody seems  to care,  and then  jurors are                                                               
dismissed from  the trial  with no  closure. Jurors  deserve more                                                               
than that because they are  making huge sacrifices and disrupting                                                               
their lives.  I assume you respond  to the feedback you  get, she                                                               
3:07:05 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. WOOLIVER  replied the  court does  get those  same complaints                                                               
and  they  do respond.  It's  not  the  case everywhere,  but  in                                                               
Anchorage  juror  parking is  a  huge  challenge and  a  constant                                                               
SENATOR  COGHILL, noting  that counseling  services might  not be                                                               
available  in  many of  the  trial  areas outside  of  Anchorage,                                                               
Fairbanks  and Juneau,  asked  how the  court  might handle  that                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE   KERTTULA  suggested   Ms.  McCarty   answer  the                                                               
HANNAH MCCARTY,  staff to Representative Kerttula,  reported that                                                               
she  spoke with  a counselor  in Kotzebue  this morning  to learn                                                               
more about what's called  "tele-behavioral" health. This involves                                                               
using  Skype  to  communicate  with   a  counselor  in  a  larger                                                               
community who can  also provide access to  the Alaska Psychiatric                                                               
Institute (API)  and a children's  center in  Seattle. Currently,                                                               
11 small  remote communities  in Representative  Joule's district                                                               
are participating  in this  program, she  said.   This technology                                                               
could be used for trials that are held in Kotzebue.                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE  KERTTULA  said she  expects  this  to be  offered                                                               
statewide. She  related that  when she  started this  journey she                                                               
expected to find  that juror counseling was  widespread, but that                                                               
isn't the case. Texas has  a program that hasn't been implemented                                                               
and  King  County   in  Washington  state  allows   one  hour  of                                                               
counseling. If  this passes,  Alaska will be  the first  state to                                                               
implement  this kind  of program,  but what's  more important  is                                                               
that it makes tremendous sense to  help our citizens who help the                                                               
state do its work, she said.                                                                                                    
3:09:55 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR COGHILL observed  that jury service is more  than a civic                                                               
responsibility; it's  a civic  duty that  people are  demanded to                                                               
do.  He opined  that in  particularly tough  cases, knowing  that                                                               
counseling would be available afterward  may play into how a jury                                                               
is selected. He asked if that had been anticipated.                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA replied she has  thought about it and she                                                               
isn't sure it would impact  jury selection. She noted that judges                                                               
give attorneys  different amounts  of latitude  in voir  dire and                                                               
it's a  question an attorney  might reasonably ask a  juror about                                                               
beforehand.  But in  any event,  she expects  that this  would be                                                               
offered afterward  when the judge  has recognized that  the trial                                                               
was particularly difficult.                                                                                                     
SENATOR  COGHILL mentioned  questions  about previous  counseling                                                               
and  family instability  and said  he  can see  another realm  of                                                               
questioning that may come to light.                                                                                             
3:11:53 PM                                                                                                                    
VICE-CHAIR WIELECHOWSKI closed public  testimony and announced he                                                               
would hold HB 52 for future consideration.                                                                                      

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