Legislature(2009 - 2010)
04/07/2010 02:43 PM JUD
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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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 duty. 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 testimony. 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 sufficient. MS. LOBAUGH said she would have found ten hours to be sufficient. 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 notice. 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 said. 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 problem. 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 circumstance. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA suggested Ms. McCarty answer the question. 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.