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Marcelle McDannel

Remember the disgraceful trial of our late, great Sen. Ted Stevens? In dismissing the public corruption case against Stevens, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said of the conduct of the prosecutors: "In nearly 25 years on the bench, I have never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct I have seen in this case." As a result of prosecutorial antics like hiding exculpatory evidence, Stevens ended his distinguished career branded a “defendant.”...

Marcelle McDannel

The University of Alaska Board of Regents wants to change what it means to be a state employee – at least for one individual. The board decided to offer University of Alaska President Pat Gamble a $320,000 retention bonus, which is the equivalent of what he makes every year. That isn’t public service; it’s public enrichment -- a violation of the 'macaroni salad ethos' that every state employee accepts in exchange for the privilege to do meaningful work. What do I mean by that? Let me explain.

Having spent years in public service myself, I’ve learned three important lessons about what that means:

1. All major holidays and events will be celebrated with an office potluck during lunch hours.

2. It’s not supposed to make people rich...

Marcelle McDannel

Last week’s splashy headline about the Alaska chief medical examiner’s past struggles with drugs and alcohol was not news to those of us who practice criminal law.

All of us – both prosecutors and defense attorneys alike – have known about Dr. Gary Zientek’s past, including his misdemeanor convictions, for years. As the Daily News article correctly reported, Dr. Zientek has always been upfront and honest about his past problems. But no one has made an issue of it, not even in court. I’d like to think that this is because, having seen addiction cut across all professions and social classes, we criminal law practitioners have come to believe in second chances. But compassion among members of the defense bar is not what has kept Dr. Zeintek’s past out of courtrooms...

Marcelle McDannel

"Schizophrenia is to psychiatry what cancer is to medicine: a sentence as well as a diagnosis." A psychiatrist made this observation in 1985. Since that time, it’s become less true about cancer, but even more accurate about schizophrenia. While billions of dollars have gone into cancer research, our community’s response to schizophrenia has been a collective yawn and shrug of the shoulders. Because of that neglect, in addition to a lifelong battle for health, far too often a diagnosis of schizophrenia has come to mean a prison sentence, and in some cases, a death sentence...

Marcelle McDannel

Last November, the bipartisan U.S. Indian Law and Order Commission issued a report about conditions in Alaska’s villages, declaring in no uncertain terms that “Alaska’s approach to criminal justice issues is fundamentally on the wrong track.” It found that the centralized, top-down model of law enforcement in which Alaska State Troopers respond to crises in the villages from regional hubs -- essentially a colonial model -- has failed to provide adequate protection to crime victims. In fact, public safety and security are so bad in rural Alaska, especially for women and children, that the committee characterized the problem as no longer a state problem but a “national disgrace.”...

Marcelle McDannel

Last month, James Mooney, a soft-spoken man who bears a striking resemblance to Conan O’Brien, tried to describe to the Alaska Legislature what it’s like to be falsely labeled a sex offender. The Legislature was considering Senate Bill 108, a bill that would require the Alaska Court System to end its inadvertent experiment in public shaming. Through its CourtView database, any member of the public with access to the internet can search all court cases filed in this state -- including criminal cases that ended in dismissal or acquittal by a jury. The bill would require the court system to restrict access to these dismissed cases...

Marcelle McDannel

We have a pretty short legislative session, but sometimes I’m not sure it’s short enough. Each year, as the session begins, I get a knot in my stomach as our legislators reveal the new ideas they’ve come up with to “fix” things that just aren’t broken. That familiar knot developed into an extreme bout of legislatively-induced nausea when I discovered that, this year, the legislature wants to mess with the Alaska Constitution...

Marcelle McDannel

When I was a teenager, I used to sneak vodka shots out of a big jug of my parents kept in their bar. Employing a time-honored adolescent trick, I cleverly replaced the missing liquor with water so the level of liquid in the jug remained the same. This same type of subterfuge has apparently been going on at the State of Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory -- only instead of cheap vodka, someone has been sampling oxycodone, morphine, opium, codeine and methamphetamine and replacing the missing narcotics with something that visually approximates those substances...

Marcelle McDannel

I arrived at my parents’ house for the holidays to find my dad unusually excited. “I’ve got something I want to share with you,” he told me, a sparkle in his eye. “It’s a TV show. I thought we could watch it together.”

“Oh yeah?” I answered, curious. “What’s it about?”

He raised his eyebrows. “The Kennedy assassination.”

My mom, who was standing next to my dad, rolled her eyes. “Your father’s become a conspiracy nut.”

“No, it’s not nutty. It’s science,” he explained to my mother slowly, as if he’d made this point to her before. “They did scientific experiments.”...

Marcelle McDannel

The state of Alaska wants to put Laura Rodgers (not her real name) in jail. According to the charging document filed by a prosecutor, Laura mailed a package to her husband, who was out working in the Bush. Among other items, the package held two methadone pills. Laura has no criminal history. Because this is her first offense, she is facing a jail term of five to eight years...

Marcelle McDannel

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