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Beier v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

January 26, 2018

CHRISTIAN LYNN BEIER, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.

         Appeal from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Trial Court No. 3AN-15-9578 CR Anchorage, Kevin Saxby and Jack W. Smith, Judges.

          Gary Soberay, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

          Donald Soderstrom, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Jahna Lindemuth, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee. Doug Wooliver, Deputy Administrative Director, Anchorage, for amicus curiae Alaska Court System.

          Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, and Allard and Wollenberg, Judges.

          OPINION

          ALLARD, Judge

         Alaska Statute 22.20.022 provides for peremptory challenges to judges. Alaska Criminal Rule 25(d) implements this right in criminal cases.[1] Under Rule 25(d), the prosecution and the defense are each entitled to one peremptory challenge if they file their notice of change of judge within five days after receiving notice that the judge has been assigned to try the case (provided that they have not participated in proceedings before that judge in the interim).[2]

         In the present case, Christian Lynn Beier was notified at a Tuesday trial call that Anchorage Superior Court Judge Kevin Saxby was assigned to preside over his trial. Beier's attorney filed a peremptory challenge of Judge Saxby the following Monday, which was within the five days permitted by the rule. (Under the provisions of Alaska Criminal Rule 40(a), the intervening weekend days are not included in the five-day calculation.[3]) But the superior court ruled that the defense attorney's peremptory challenge was untimely because, under a standing order of the Anchorage superior court, litigants who were notified of a judicial assignment at a Tuesday trial call were required to file any peremptory challenge by Thursday at noon (that is, within a day and a half).

         Beier now appeals the denial of his peremptory challenge under Alaska Appellate Rule 216(a)(2).[4]

         The State of Alaska has filed a brief in opposition to Beier's appeal. At our request, the Alaska Court System has also filed a brief-but the court system concedes that the Anchorage superior court's standing order is unenforceable to the extent that it conflicts with the provisions of Criminal Rule 25(d).

         For the reasons explained here, we accept the court system's position that the shorter time limit specified in the Anchorage standing order is unenforceable.

         The State's argument on appeal

         The State contends that the Anchorage standing order constitutes a lawful exercise of the superior court's authority under Alaska Criminal Rule 53 to relax the five-day time period specified in Rule 25(d)(2). Rule 53 gives courts the authority to relax or dispense with criminal rules "in any case where it shall be manifest to the court that a strict adherence to them will work injustice." The State argues that the Anchorage superior court's standing order falls within the purview of that rule because it is designed to effectuate the timely and efficient administration of justice in felony cases and to prevent the kind of undue delay and witness availability problems that peremptory challenges filed on the eve of trial can create.

         But Rule 53 is inapplicable to this situation. As noted above, Rule 53 authorizes a judge to dispense with a provision of the criminal rules when, in the context of an individual case, the judge concludes that a strict adherence to the rule as written will manifestly lead to injustice. In contrast, the Anchorage superior court's standing order is not an adjudicative ruling by an individual judge in an individual case. Instead, it is a rule of local practice - a rule that applies to all felony cases scheduled for trial in the Anchorage superior court. In the words of Alaska Administrative Rule 46(c)(2), this standing order is a "non-adjudicating directive" that "effectuat[es] administrative concerns."

         Administrative Rule 46(a) grants authority to the presiding judge of a judicial district to promulgate such administrative orders, ...


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