Panel finds fault with judge over jailed witness

Posted: Friday, May 26, 2000

ANCHORAGE -- A Bethel judge is under fire from the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct for allegedly violating state law and the judicial code by improperly jailing a witness in a criminal case to make sure she stayed sober.

A complaint issued this week says Superior Court Judge Dale Curda also engaged in an improper hearing with the prosecutor in the case. It says he failed to advise the witness, who was not named in court records, that she had a right to an attorney or to present evidence in her defense.

Curda's attorney, Jonathon Katcher, said the judge acknowledges and regrets that he made a legal error, but doesn't believe his mistake amounts to a violation of law or the code of judicial conduct.

The complaint centers on the 1995 trial of Wilfred Raphael, who was accused of assaulting and kidnapping the witness, with whom he lived. The Alaska Supreme Court overturned Raphael's conviction in January and ordered a new trial. The high court said Curda's decision to jail the witness without allowing her to contest his contempt ruling tainted her testimony against Raphael.

According to the complaint against Curda, the judge met privately during the trial with the prosecutor who told Curda that the witness, brought to Bethel to testify against Raphael and instructed to remain sober, had been evicted from a rooming house for being intoxicated and was unable to remain sober.

Curda reacted by jailing the witness for contempt until the conclusion of the trial, a period of several days.

The judicial conduct commission could recommend a range of sanctions against Curda or could dismiss the complaint.

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