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Council asks voters to remove Palmer judge

Tegan Hanlon

The Alaska Judicial Council is recommending that residents vote against retaining Palmer District Court Judge William Estelle in the November general election.

While the six-member council urged voters to say yes to keeping the 13 other judges up for another term, it wrote in a press release issued Tuesday that Estelle filed untrue affidavits between September 2011 and February 2013, swearing that he had completed cases within time constraints.

"The Judicial Council concluded that by filing the 16 untrue affidavits, Judge Estelle failed to conduct himself in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and competence of the judiciary," the council wrote.

State law prohibits judges from being paid if they have undecided cases outstanding for more than six months. The judicial council said Estelle signed affidavits saying he issued decisions in all cases pending before him within six months and continued to receive a regular salary.

The Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended earlier this year that Estelle be disciplined for signing the affidavits, according to filings with the Alaska Supreme Court, although the commission also made clear in its findings that it does not believe Estelle acted intentionally, and that in fact, he self-reported the affidavits to the commission a day after it opened an investigation into the matter.

“The Commission cannot find by clear and convincing evidence that Judge Estelle knew that the affidavits were inaccurate at the time he signed them,” commission chair Keith Levy wrote in findings dated May 1. “The Commission does find that he did not act intentionally.”

Estelle has served as a District Court judge since 2003. He did not immediately respond to request for comment Tuesday.

Susanne DiPietro, executive director of the council, said it's rare for the body to recommend against retaining a judge. Since 1976, it has issued the "no" recommendation only 12 times.

The judicial council's last call for removal came in 2010 when it said Anchorage District Court Judge Richard Postma should not be retained. Alaskans voted him out. A District Court judge normally serves a four-year term, DiPietro said.

When completing its recommendations, the council conducted surveys with peace and probation officers, court employees, attorneys, jurors and social workers. It reviewed ratings, listened to court proceedings, solicited feedback from the public and tracked how often a judge was disqualified from presiding over a case, DiPietro said.

The judicial council, established by the state's constitution, is a group of three non-attorneys appointed by the governor and three attorneys appointed by the Alaska Bar Association's Board of Governors.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct found that Judge William Estelle did not act intentionally and to clarify that although Estelle signed affidavits that were inaccurate, he did not falsify any records.