JUNEAU -- Gov. Sean Parnell's appointee for the panel that nominates state judges testified Wednesday that he would like to see Alaskans prosecuted for having sex outside of marriage.
The candidate, Don Haase of Valdez, also admitted under questioning by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that his official resume failed to disclose his leadership role in Eagle Forum Alaska, which advocates for social conservative issues. He most recently was president of the organization, but resigned when he learned of his nomination, he said.
Haase, picked by Parnell for one of three public seats on the Alaska Judicial Council, said that he wouldn't let his personal beliefs influence which candidates he'd approve for judgeships.
"It would be a very convoluted process to sit on this board to change the law," said Haase, testifying by telephone. "It would be an inconvenient way to do it."
By the time the hearing on Haase ended -- there was some 40 minutes of questioning by the panel's three Democrats, some questions suggesting that Haase had attempted to scrub clean a record of extreme beliefs -- his nomination may turn on an issue of geography, not personal values.
Haase would replace a member from Ketchikan, whose departure leaves the council without a public representative from Southeast Alaska's First Judicial District. Valdez is in the third district, headquartered in Anchorage.
The state constitution mandates that council appointments be considered by "area representation." That has been interpreted to mean one public member from each of the state's three most populous judicial districts, Larry Cohn, executive director of the council, told the committee. In the 52-year history of the council, Southeast Alaska was without a representative for only two years, he said.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Hollis French, D-Anchorage, closed the hearing without a vote on Haase's nomination, saying he wanted to take a "deeper look" at the constitutional requirement.
A spokeswoman for Parnell said Haase's residency in Valdez should represent adequate geographic diversity.
"There is no mathematical way for all four judicial districts to have representation among the three public seats," Sharon Leighow said in a prepared statement. "The Constitution does not require representation from specific districts but requires the governor to consider geographic distribution. The City of Valdez has never been represented on the council."
The council is a unique feature in Alaska's constitution, designed by the state's founders to avoid the kind of politics that affect judiciaries in states where judges run for office or are picked by governors. The council has three public members who serve six-year terms and three attorneys chosen by the state bar's board of governors. The Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court serves as chair and tiebreaker.
The council vets applicants for district, superior and appellate courts, including the Alaska Supreme Court, and submits at least two names for each vacancy to the governor. When judges go before the voters in nonpartisan retention elections, the council submits its recommendations in the state election pamphlet.
Some governors have complained that the council ties their hands and prevents them from picking judges of their choice. Former Gov. Sarah Palin said she didn't like the weight given by the council to attorney reviews of candidates. Several conservatives sued in federal court to have the council declared unconstitutional but their case was thrown out in 2009.
Palin appointed Kathleen Tompkins-Miller, wife of tea party Senate candidate Joe Miller, to the council in 2009.
Haase -- pronounced "hays" -- has done electrical and mechanical design work at the trans-Alaska pipeline terminal in Valdez since 2000, first working for Veco, then for CH2M Hill. He ran for the Legislature in 2010 but came in second in the Republican primary to Rep. Eric Feige in what was nearly a three-way tie.
His resume listed such extracurricular activities as his roles in producing and starring in local plays for tourists and being a member of the Valdez Snowmachine Club. But it made no reference to the Eagle Forum Alaska. In response to questions from Sen. Joe Paskvan, D-Fairbanks, Haase said he became active in the organization about 2005, eventually taking on responsibility for its blog. "I was only president for a couple of months. I resigned as soon as I got the call that this came up," Haase said.
He said he didn't think it was important enough to merit mention in his resume. He didn't list his church membership either, he said.
One blog post on the Eagle Forum Alaska site praised efforts at criminalizing adultery in Michigan, and Paskvan asked Haase if he thought it should be a felony in Alaska.
"I don't see that that would rise to the level of a felony," Haase said.
Paskvan: "Do you believe it should be a crime?"
Haase: "Yeah, I think it's very harmful to have extramarital affairs. It's harmful to children, it's harmful to the spouse who entered a legally binding agreement to marry the person that's cheating on them."
Paskvan: "What about premarital affairs -- should that be a crime?"
Haase: "I think that would be up to the voters certainly. If it came before (the state) as a vote, I probably would vote for it ... I can see where it would be a matter for the state to be involved with because of the spread of disease and the likelihood that it would cause violence. I can see legitimate reasons to push that as a crime."
Haase then asked why those questions were relevant.
"You are injecting yourself into the judicial system and so I think it's fair inquiry," Paskvan replied. "If you have a motivation to limit who would be advanced to a judgeship ... then your beliefs and attitudes are important," Paskvan said.
Haase said he opposed judicial activism, and cited the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade as an example. In his campaign for state House last year, Haase made his opposition to abortion a central theme. Abortion is also a prominent theme on the Eagle Forum Alaska blog.
But he testified he wouldn't have an anti-abortion litmus test in choosing state judges, whom he said rarely touched major political issues.
"Their case laws are going to be dealing with traffic violations, domestic disputes, petty crimes, small claims, things of that nature," Haase said. "I'd be wasting my time to try to affect any of these (political) issues through this process."
French reminded him that the judicial council doesn't just nominate judges to lower courts.
"You will have the opportunity to shape the field of candidates who would be seated on the Alaska Court of Appeals and the Alaska Supreme Court, and those questions come before the Supreme Court on a regular basis -- parental notification, choice issues, and so forth," French said.
By RICHARD MAUER
Alaska Dispatch Publishing