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Rural Alaska

Panel determines Superior Court judge likely has work-impairing disability

An Alaska panel on judicial conduct determined Tuesday there is "probable cause" that the first woman to serve as a Superior Court judge in Utqiagvik suffers from a disability that prevents her from doing her job.

Angela Greene, the only Superior Court judge for the North Slope region, was "relieved of her duties" on Jan. 19 by Chief Justice Craig Stowers, the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct said in an order Tuesday.

Stowers in May requested that the commission launch proceedings that would lead to a medical retirement for Greene. The commission must still make a final recommendation to the Alaska Supreme Court about that medical retirement.

Greene, appointed by former Gov. Sean Parnell in 2014, retains her seat for now.

Judges from other regions have been filling in for trials and complex cases, said Brodie Kimmel, area court administrator for the 2nd Judicial District, in Nome.

Daily court matters are being handled by Greene's predecessor, Michael Jeffery, an Utqiagvik resident who retired in 2014 and was sometimes called "minimum Mike" by critics for emphasizing probation over jail time.

"We are fortunate Jeffery is willing to come out of his retirement," said Kimmel. "Everything is operating smoothly from our perspective."

In its three-page order Tuesday, the commission said "medical ailments" forced Greene to take medical administrative leave in October 2016.

Greene returned to judicial service in July but was struck by a vehicle in December as a pedestrian, according to the commission's order.

"In early January 2018, it became apparent that Judge Greene was continuing to suffer from a disability that seriously interferes with the performance of her judicial duties," the commission said in its decision.

The decision did not name Greene's medical illness or provide more detail about the car accident.

Her attorney, Bill Satterberg, would not comment. Greene could not be reached Tuesday.

Justice is being adequately served in the region, said Greg Olson, the Fairbanks district attorney serving most of the North Slope.

Some cases have been reassigned to courts in Nome and Kotzebue, he said.

"By and large, there has not been a major impact to the process up there," Olson said.

Robert Curran, assistant public defender in Utqiagvik, would not comment.

Greene was up for retention election this year, according to the Alaska Judicial Council website.

While the commission has determined "probable cause" exists, it must still prove Greene has a disability that seriously interferes with the performance of her job, said Marla Greenstein, the commission's executive director.

It must then make a recommendation to the state's highest court, which will make the final decision, she said.

Before that recommendation is made, the commission will hold a public hearing on April 27 on the topic, Greenstein said.

Greenstein said the commission has weighed such a decision only once before. In October 2016, it recommended that Nome Superior Court Judge Tim Dooley receive disability retirement, several months after he was flown to Anchorage from Nome with a "serious illness." The state Supreme Court approved the disability retirement.

In a separate matter, Dooley had been publicly reprimanded by the state's highest court in August 2016 after acknowledging he made inappropriate comments on the job. In one instance, he told a jury off-record, referring to a witness who spoke quietly during a domestic violence felony assault trial, "I'm sorry, folks, but I can't slap her around to make her talk louder."

Dooley retired for medical reasons in February 2017. He died in December at age 65.

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