The 2012 election has been so overshadowed by Presidential debates and State Senator commercials, it sometimes seems there is little oxygen left in the room for key local issues. Nevertheless, judicial races are of critical importance: Judges can, and do, overturn laws that are debated and enacted by our elected representatives. Members of the public often express dismay at the lack of information available about individual candidates, particularly judges. This election, Alaska Family Action has identified the record of one judge up for retention whose rulings we find particularly egregious, and asked voters to “Vote No on Sen Tan.” The response to our legitimate concerns have come from a surprising source – media buys by the Alaska Judicial Council, funded by the State of Alaska itself.
Alaska Family Action has communicated objections with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, requesting an immediate halt to the use of public funds by the Alaska Judicial Council in its campaign to retain Judge Sen Tan.
The Alaska Judicial Council has run print ads in the Anchorage Daily News, falsely claiming that this “Outstanding” judge is being “Unfairly targeted in a last-minute attack timed to deny him the opportunity to respond.” This accusation – funded by public money, and clearly intended to paint this judge as a victim of this “unfair attack” -- is simply false. AFAs statements regarding Judge Sen Tan’s record have been factually accurate. As a group of private citizens, AFA initiated a campaign to educate the public about the facts on October 13th, almost a month before the election – hardly last minute.
Alaska campaign law is crystal clear: Judges under consideration for retention, and their campaigns, are specifically required to comply with campaign statutes. The following questions cry out to be answered:
- Was there communication and coordination between the Judicial Council and Judge Sen Tan prior to the expenditure of public funds on his behalf?
- If there was communication, what was it, and is the judge aware of the APOC prohibitions against it?
- Do ethics rules apply to State-funded organizations that campaign at public expense?
- If Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Spaan ruled in 2010 that public funds can be used to advertise the Judicial Council’s recommendation, did he include allowance for a blank check – using public funds to advocate, while misleading the public and attacking the motives of private citizens?
AFA has no objection to the Alaska Judicial Council providing survey results on Judge Tan, along with all other judges. We will not question the legal ability or temperament of Judge Tan, as advertised by his surrogates. However, we absolutely question Judge Tan’s proven propensity toward judicial activism, and record of supplanting the elected representatives of the people with his rulings from the bench – including demanding the expenditure of State Funds, which had not even been appropriated by the Legislature.
If an elected official were to tap into State Funds to gain a State endorsement to cover his campaign expenses, would this be a problem? Clearly the answer is “yes.” State law calls for judges and their allies to follow the same rules, and specifically prohibits the use of public funds for any of these campaigns.
Alaska citizens rely on both their judges and State Agencies, including the Judicial Council, to comply with election law. If the Judicial Council is allowed to muscle into campaigns and drown out the opposition, Alaska is sending a clear message to its citizens: Any legitimate group who wishes to oppose a judge had better be prepared to match resources with Officials at the Judicial Council who feel free to besmirch their opponents, and selectively choose which state laws they will comply with. We strongly object, and we insist that this candidate for Judgeship and his campaign surrogates on the Judicial Council comply with State Law. The credibility of our system of justice is at stake.
Article by Greg Schmidt, AFA Board Treasurer