As a retired judge who has spent over three decades serving our justice system, America's promise of "equal justice under law" resonates deeply with me, every day. Fair and impartial courts are the key to fulfilling this promise. Judges must put aside their own personal, political or religious views when rendering decisions according to the law.
Our country is admired because of our dedication to the rule of law. Large and small companies, law enforcement and those accused of crimes, fishermen and miners, the powerful and the poor all want fair and impartial judges on their case who will apply the law.
For that reason, you don't see insurance companies, or oil companies, or environmental groups, or district attorneys or public defenders organizing and funding efforts to take down a judge who decided a case against their interest.
If they don't like the decision, they appeal it. If they don't like the law that underlies the judge's decision, they try and get the law changed. That is the democratic process.
Yet, despite this fundamental principle, which has been the cornerstone of our justice system, a well-organized group has now targeted Superior Court Judge Sen Tan. Why? Because, more than a decade ago, he made decisions in two cases that did not agree with the personal, political and religious agenda of the group. His detractors claim that the judge sought to "impose his personal beliefs" on Alaskans and thus should be voted out of office in this upcoming election.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The judge's decisions were based on the law. Judge Sen Tan is one of the most talented and fair-minded judges in our state. He serves as presiding judge of the Third Judicial District and is one of the most highly rated judges in the state. He is especially well regarded for his service in cases affecting abused and neglected children, receiving perfect scores from the child welfare professionals who appear before him.
I deeply respect the right of any citizen or group of citizens to criticize judges and their decisions. After all, reasonable minds can differ on difficult and controversial issues. However, last-minute campaigns, filled with falsehoods, against a respected man who honors the rule of law endanger what we all hold so dear.
Good judges do what they believe the law requires, not what they think will be popular or what will placate or pacify the loudest, wealthiest or most powerful voices. On our best day, half of the litigants before us will be unhappy. We are asked to decide who wins and who loses, based on the law and the facts before us
Judge Tan's decisions were upheld by our highest court, precluding claims that they were the product of his personal whims or that they were not based on Alaska law. The judge's detractors want the judge gone not because he is a poor judge but because he did not agree with their position.
If wealthy or organized special interests can target and remove judges because they don't like a judge's decision, we have all lost the level playing field that the courts are meant to provide.
If Alaskans want judges who are as strong and independent as the Alaskans they serve, then they have an obligation to recognize the threat that special interests can have on fair and impartial courts. All of the judges on the November ballot have passed a very careful evaluation and have been recommended for a "yes" vote. I will be voting "yes" on all the judges because, win or lose, I want to be judged by judges who have the courage to apply the law.
Elaine Andrews is a retired judge who served in both Alaska District and Superior courts and also on the Judicial Conduct Commission.
BY ELAINE ANDREWS