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In re Estelle

Supreme Court of Alaska

September 12, 2014

In re William Estelle, Judge of the District Court, Third Judicial District at Palmer, Alaska Order No. 86

Alaska Commission of Judicial Conduct. Accusation No. 2013-004.

Before: Winfree, Stowers, and Maassen, Justices. [Fabe, Chief Justice, and Bolger, Justice, not participating].

OPINION

ORDER

It is Ordered:

The Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct has filed a Recommendation for Discipline of District Court Judge William Estelle, recommending that he be suspended without pay for 45 days. Following a formal disciplinary hearing, the Commission filed its Findings and Recommendation. The Commission unanimously agreed under a clear and convincing evidence standard that Judge Estelle violated AS 22.30.011(a)(3)(C), (D), and (E), and Canons 1, 2A, 3C(1), and 3B(8) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. These findings were based on several instances where Judge Estelle signed pay affidavits incorrectly stating that he had no matters that were ripe and undecided for more than six months. Judge Estelle's Answer to the Commission's Complaint, as amended by a stipulation substituting an allegation of violation of Canon 3C(1) for Canon 3B(2)(a), admitted that he violated the charged statute and Canons. Judge Estelle has not filed a response to the Commission's Recommendation for Discipline.

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The Recommendation adequately sets forth the facts and circumstances of Judge Estelle's violations. It correctly applies the factors under the American Bar Association's Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, which we have held should be applied to the extent possible when sanctioning judges.[1] These standards are the ethical duty the judge violated; the judge's mental state; the extent of the actual or potential injury caused by the judge's misconduct; and any aggravating or mitigating circumstances. Again, the Commission's Findings and Recommendation discuss each of these factors. Notably, the Commission found both aggravating and mitigating circumstances but importantly did not find that Judge Estelle intentionally falsified his pay affidavits, and because of the mitigating circumstances, concluded that a reduction from the usual baseline suspension of six months was warranted, thus recommending only a 45-day suspension without pay.

In a judicial disciplinary proceeding, we conduct a de novo review of both the alleged judicial misconduct and recommended sanction.[2] We conclude from our review of the Commission's Findings and Recommendation that Judge Estelle's misconduct has been established by clear and convincing evidence, particularly in light of his Answer admitting the charged allegations, and that the Commission's legal analysis and recommendation are appropriate. We thus accept the Commission's Recommendation, and adopt its Findings and Recommendation.[3],[4]

DISSENT

WINFREE, Justice, dissenting in part.

The Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct's effort in this case is commendable, and I agree to adopt its findings of fact with respect to Judge Estelle's misconduct. Using the 90-day suspension from In re Cummings [1] as a relevant benchmark, I must concede that the 45-day suspension recommended here does not seem inappropriate. The problem I see is not with the Commission's sanctions analysis or its consideration of In re Cummings, but rather with In re Cummings itself; in retrospect I believe the 90-day sanction imposed in that matter was too lenient. The misconduct in In re Cummings warranted the base-line suspension of six months, or at least near it. The misconduct here warrants a suspension of at least three, and probably four, months. I therefore dissent from the court's adoption of the 45-day suspension in this case.

RECOMMENDATION FOR DISCIPLINE

Procedures before the Commission

This matter was brought to the attention of the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct (" Commission" ) in late-March 2013. At its regular meeting on April 26, 2013, the

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Commission determined that it would hold a Probable Cause Hearing in this matter. A Probable Cause Hearing took place at the Commission's next regular meeting on August 19, 2013. At the conclusion of the Probable Cause Hearing, the Commission issued Formal Charges by unanimous vote. A Formal Disciplinary Hearing pursuant to AS 22.30.011(b) and Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct Rule 14 took place in Anchorage on April 17th and 18th 2014. The attached Commission Findings and Recommendation is filed pursuant to Article IV, section 10 of the Constitution of Alaska, AS 22.30.011 (d)(2) and Rule 406 of Alaska's Rules of Appellate Procedure.

SUBMITTED by the COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT, through its Executive Director, this 6th day of May 2014.

/s/ Marla N. Greenstein

Marla N. Greenstein (Bar No. 9708048)Executive Director Commission On Judicial Conduct

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

1. Introduction

The Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct filed a complaint against District Court Judge William Estelle on August 20, 2013. The Complaint alleged that Judge Estelle engaged in conduct that violates AS 22.30.011(a)(3)(C), (D), and (E), and Canons 1, 2A, 3B(2)(a), and 3B(8) of the Alaska Code of Judicial Conduct. Judge Estelle filed an Answer admitting the allegations in the Complaint except that he denied violating Canon 3B(2)(a). The parties subsequently stipulated to amend the Complaint to substitute Canon 3C(1) for Canon 3B(2)(a) and the Commission accepted the stipulation.

The Commission conducted a formal discipline hearing on April 17 and 18, 2014. Judge Estelle was present and represented by counsel, James E. Torgerson. Special Counsel Matthew D. Jamin represented the Commission. After considering the evidence and arguments of counsel, the Commission unanimously agreed that there is clear and convincing evidence that Judge Estelle violated AS ...


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