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Nome judge admits inappropriate comments, recommended for censure

  • Author: Laurel Andrews
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published December 10, 2015

During a disciplinary hearing Thursday morning, Nome Superior Court Judge Timothy Dooley repeatedly expressed regret about the inappropriate comments he made – including toward a sexual abuse victim -- shortly after taking the bench in Nome that spurred an ethics complaint against him.

In a shift from Dooley's previous denial of wrongdoing, Dooley and the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct attorneys had agreed beforehand that the comments were inappropriate; Thursday's hearing made before the commission panel asked them to accept the agreement and recommend disciplinary action.

Dooley, 62, is the sole Superior Court Judge in Nome. Appointed by then-Gov. Sean Parnell, Dooley assumed the bench on April 15, 2013. He had been in private practice as an attorney, mostly in civil matters, before the appointment, he told the panel. He moved with his wife from Anchorage to Nome, a "true Alaskan town" that is "heaven for me," he said.

During the hearing, Dooley spoke of being overwhelmed when first taking office. He said that staffing issues and a lack of other judges in town who could offer guidance contributed to his being "very ineffective" in the beginning of his tenure.

"I was making mistakes right and left," Dooley said of his first months as a judge.

'I do regret that'

Dooley's first questionable comment was made on the record several weeks after his appointment, on May 29, 2013. During a sentencing, Dooley asked a defendant, "Has anything good ever come out of drinking, except for sex with a pretty girl?"

That statement "was wrong for me to say especially in view of the fact that sex offenders were present in the gallery," Dooley wrote in a statement to the commission.

Dooley said Thursday that he had been talking to the defendant as if he were still in private practice -- that such a statement would be used to build rapport and trust with a client.

"I do regret that," he said.

The second statement was made Oct. 29, 2013. During a sentencing, Dooley said, "What you've done with this young girl, it's a strange thing, routinely done in Afghanistan, where they marry 6-year-old girls. In our society, and in the society of the local tribal communities, supposed to be totally forbidden."

On Thursday, Dooley said he was "absolutely baffled" by the complaint at first, and still did not consider the statement inherently wrong. He said he had learned that "other people will take it a different way," though.

Another statement that received scrutiny Thursday was made on Aug. 20, 2014. During a domestic violence felony assault trial, Dooley said off the record to a jury, in regards to a witness speaking quietly, "I'm sorry, folks, but I can't slap her around to make her talk louder."

"The witness victim did not hear me make the statement," Dooley wrote in a letter to the panel. "Nevertheless, I regret saying this because she was a domestic violence victim and the statement inferred that I would slap her around if only the rules let me."

Dooley made two other statements also found to be inappropriate.

On Nov. 5, 2013, during a sexual abuse of a minor case in which the victim was a 14-year-old girl, Dooley said, "This was not someone who was, and I hate to use the phrase, 'asking for it.' There are girls out there that seem to be temptresses. And this does not seem to be anything like that."

Dooley wrote that he "said the girl involved was not [original emphasis] a temptress. This showed my belief that the defendant in this case had no mitigating factors to consider in sentencing by law."

Finally, on Aug. 12, 2014, in a civil trial, Dooley said "I'm gonna enforce these oaths and they're enforceable with a 2-year sentence for perjury. And I'd be the sentencing judge. I also have a medieval Christianity that says if you violate an oath, you're going to Hell. You all may not share that, but I'm planning to populate Hell."

Dooley wrote to the panel that the statement was "rude and boorish and violated the separation of church and state … this is the worst offense I have done."

Since making these comments, Dooley said he has "quit going off script" and no longer injects extraneous statements during court proceedings. "I just screen what I say far more," he added.

He said Thursday he regretted causing trouble for the "wonderful people" at the Nome court, and that "my poor wife did a lot of crying at night and I caused her an amazing amount of stress."

Disciplinary recommendations

The commission's attorneys did not provide a disciplinary recommendation. They said Dooley had harmed public confidence in the judicial system, but they believed his remorse to be sincere.

Dooley's attorney, William Satterberg, argued that Dooley had "in many respects already felt the whip," given the backlash against his statements.

"In a way, I'm going to blame the court system," Satterberg said, for not providing training or support staff for the new and sole Superior Court judge.

Censure was not needed, Satterberg argued. He argued instead for Dooley to undergo training programs.

After deliberating for less than two hours, the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct accepted the parties' stipulation, agreeing that the comments were inappropriate and violated the code of conduct.

The commission recommended that Dooley be publicly censured -- meaning that the court would make a public statement of wrongdoing -- that he be assigned a mentor judge for 12 months, and that he undergo further training on subjects such as cultural sensitivity and domestic violence.

Public censure is the lowest form of public discipline the commission can recommend, according to commission director Marla Greenstein.

Removal from office is the most severe discipline, and only one judge -- Dennis Cummings of Bethel -- has faced a recommendation of removal from office, Greenstein said. Cummings ultimately retired before the Supreme Court heard the case, though the court still removed Cummings even after his retirement.

The recommendation now heads to the Alaska Supreme Court, which will ultimately decide what disciplinary action to take against Dooley.

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