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James R. Stewart v. Steve Elliott

October 1, 2010

JAMES R. STEWART, APPELLANT,
v.
STEVE ELLIOTT, APPELLEE.



Supreme Court No. S-13286; Superior Court No. 4FA-07-01251 CI. Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Michael A. MacDonald, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fabe, Justice.

Notice: This opinion is subject to correction before publication in the PACIFIC REPORTER. Readers are requested to bring errors to the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts, 303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, phone (907) 264-0608, fax (907) 264-0878, e-mail corrections@appellate.courts.state.ak.us.

OPINION

Before: Carpeneti, Chief Justice, Fabe, Winfree, Christen, and Stowers, Justices.

I. INTRODUCTION

A driver was arrested on a felony driving under the influence (DUI) charge at 12:40 a.m. on the date a new DUI law took effect. Represented by counsel, he pleaded no contest to the DUI charge in return for its reduction from a felony to a misdemeanor. But years later, the superior court granted the driver post-conviction relief, concluding that his counsel had been ineffective in failing to recognize that although the new DUI law became effective at 12:01 Alaska Standard Time, Alaska was still on Daylight Saving Time at the time of arrest.

The driver brought a malpractice suit against the attorney who negotiated the plea bargain. The driver relied primarily on the decision in the post-conviction relief action to demonstrate his attorney's negligence in failing to recognize a discrepancy between Alaska Standard Time and Alaska Daylight Saving Time. But the superior court declined to give the post-conviction decision preclusive effect and ruled that the driver had not presented sufficient evidence to prove negligence.

Because the driver's attorney in the criminal action was not a party to the post-conviction relief proceeding and neither directed nor controlled that litigation, we agree with the superior court that the post-conviction relief decision did not have preclusive effect in the malpractice action. We also conclude that the record supports the superior court's decision, and we affirm it in all respects.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

1. Arrest and plea bargain

On September 1, 2001, Alaska's DUI law changed, lowering -- from 0.10 to 0.08 -- the blood alcohol percentage required for a driver to be considered "under the influence."*fn1 On that same day James Stewart was arrested at 12:40 a.m.*fn2 Various tests showed his blood alcohol percentage to be between 0.080 and 0.91. These levels were under the .10 presumption in the old law but exceeded the .08 presumption in the new law. Because new laws become effective at 12:01 a.m. Alaska Standard Time, Stewart's 12:40 a.m. arrest proceeded under the new DUI law.*fn3

Stewart was charged with a DUI. He faced a heightened charge because he had a prior DUI conviction and another conviction for refusing to take a blood alcohol test.*fn4 Attorney Steve Elliott represented Stewart and negotiated a plea bargain under which Stewart pleaded no contest in November 2001 to the reduced charge of a misdemeanor DUI, carrying a one-year sentence and a $1,000 fine. He ...


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