Friday, May 07, 2010

Ethics Complaint Against Hispanic Anchorage Judge Richard Postma May Be A Witch Hunt, But Postma Undermines Public Support By Playing The Race Card

Update June 3rd: Updated story in the Anchorage Daily News. Postma officially responds to complaint, but no new information forthcoming.


When the story about the ethics complaint against Anchorage District Court Judge Richard Postma first broke on May 5th, 2010, I was wondering whether or not it was actually driven by an intra-office power struggle which got out of hand. Although the complaint alludes to the possibility of mental illness, citing the fact that an independent mental health expert determined he has a disability that seriously interferes with the performance of duties and is or may become permanent, it didn't seem like the other specifications necessarily rose to the level warranting immediate removal from the bench. Furthermore, the complaint does not charge him with acting inappropriately in court or question his decision-making on the bench. You can read the four-page complaint HERE.

And on May 7th, the Anchorage Daily News reports that Judge Postma is fighting back through his mouthpiece, Thomas Van Flein, who is also Sarah Palin's attorney. According to Van Flein, Judge Postma says ethics accusations against him stem from an internal personnel dispute within the judicial bureaucracy started by his own allegations that he is discriminated against because he's Hispanic, despite the fact that there's no hint of racial discrimination spelled out in the complaint. On Page 2, there is the phrase "From February 2009 to April 2010, Judge Postma, in response to perceive inequities in his case assignments and other administrative matters...", but nowhere is there any hint that the perceived inequities were based on race or ethnicity.

So by suddenly playing the race card, Judge Postma has actually undermined his case with part of the community. A number of people have already posted comments criticizing him for racializing the dispute. Judge Postma does have his supporters, though; one person wrote, "I've known Richard Postma for nearly a decade. Those that question his fitness for this position are simply wrong. He is intelligent, thoughtful, witty, professional, and highly ethical".

What makes this ethics complaint difficult to dismiss out of hand is that it was not filed by a self-anointed crusader like Andree McLeod who could be portrayed as an obsessive crank. Instead, it was filed by the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct, which consists of three judges, three attorneys, and three ordinary members of the community deemed to have sufficient interest and expertise in judicial matters. How likely is it to get nine seeming "pillars of the community" to all sign off on a witch hunt against Judge Postma disguised as an ethics complaint? Not likely, so I must conclude there is some substance to this complaint. The real question may be whether or not Judge Postma's behavior merely warrants sanctioning, or outright removal.

Judge Postma gets the opportunity to fight for his reputation and position. He gets 20 days to deliver a response, which means that since the complaint is dated April 30th, he must respond no later than May 19th. After the Judicial Commission holds a hearing where Postma is allowed to defend himself, they will forward a recommendation to the Alaska Supreme Court, which will make the ultimate decision on his disposition. But even though Wendy Lyford, area court administrator for the Third Judicial District, acknowledged that there's no reason to question his prior decisions, Judge Postma has been placed on paid administrative leave until the issue is resolved.

Even if Judge Postma saves his job, his reputation will be tarnished, and could potentially affect the outcome of the retention election he's being subjected to this year. The overwhelming number of judges standing in retention elections are approved by the voters, usually by 60 percent or more. Only one judge in recent memory has been rejected, former Kenai District Court Judge David Landry. In 2006, charges were filed against Landry after he was accused of making inappropriate sexual comments and allowing suspects to escape prosecution by delaying their trials. Voters ousted him in 2008 before the issue was resolved, but the Alaska Supreme Court later barred him from holding any judgeship in the state.

13 comments:

  1. I agree. If Postma's internal complaints from last year are in writing, let's see them. It's one thing if he has been complaining about discrimination for more than a year which would be very serious. But it is quite another thing for him to claim racial discrimination at the last minute to get out of trouble.

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  2. One thing is missing from this article. Yes, the members of the commission are pillars of the community. but if you speak with local judges you'll hear that the commission's executive director is an obsessive crank like Andrea McLeod. That said, I doubt even the executive director would make formal charges public like they did if the judge had been claiming discrimination for more than a year.

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  3. I was not aware that the commission's executive director was considered to be obsessed. Even so, he's only one of nine; he could easily be overruled.

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  4. I hear from a good source that you three will likely be very surprised by some of the revelations that are coming out of the courthouse. Something very wrong is going on there.

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  5. Did anyone notice the charges against this Hispanic judge were published in the and on May 5th, Cinco de Mayo? Now that's ironic. What are the odds of that being a coincidence.

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  6. Believe me, witch hunts can easily be furthered by groups of individuals. That's the whole nature of them. How do you think the Salem witch trials happened? Or the outrageous and outlandish daycare abuse prosecutions? Or the persecutions of the 1950s against alleged "commies" or commie sympathizers? It happens all the time, every day, here in Anchorage, in various institutions. Nobody wants to buck the machinery because then they will become a target. I am familiar with most of the judges on the bench, and if I was picking them off one by one, Judge Postma is likely to be one of the very last to go--and possibly the last. I can think of a few who would be right on top of the list.

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  7. To Anchorage Activist: The Judicial Conduct Commision's executive director is a she, not a he.

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  8. The new article says the commission is charging him with an unspecified mental illness, and that the "complaint does not allege misconduct on the bench -- or criminal conduct, substance abuse or ethical impropriety. It is unclear from the public documents what led the commission to file its complaint." It goes on to say that Postma's answer suggests that discrimination is causing him to suffer anxiety. How does this constitute an "ethics" issue? Sounds more like the court system and the commission is trying to white wash the matter instead of deal with workplace discrimination. Sad but not surprising from a government bureaucracy.

    Does anyone know where on-line you can find the commission's complaint or the judge's answer?

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  9. For those of you who missed it, the Judicial Council had an amazing hearing yesterday about Judge Postma. The highlights:
    1. Judge Motyka threatened Judge Postma with a gun, and when Postma complaint it was he and not Motyka who was suspended.
    2. Justice Carpeneti and attorney Kevin Fitzgerald acknowledged that the Conduct Commission breached Postma's privacy rights, failed to afford him anonymity like many of the other judges in reported disciplinary cases, and violated their own rules and the same statute they accuse Postma of violating in the way they made the charges against him public;
    3. The Conduct Commission has disseminated Postma's mental health evaluation without a valid release from him.
    4. Judge Shortell issued a report to a presiding judge reported that every district court judge reported problems with the employees that Judge Postma complained about, that this report was withheld from Judge Postma and later omitted from a court system report to the Conduct Commission.
    5. That Marla Greenstein, Executive Director of the Conduct Commission, used an ethnic slur to publicly stereotype Judge Postma.
    6. Council member William Clarke acknowledged that Judge Postma has been victimized by insubordination and discrimination and that the court system is ignoring it.
    7. Council attorney Teresa Carns admits that the Judicial Council failed to properly notify the public about Judge Postma's hearing.
    8. That there is an absence of leadership in the court system and that Justice Carpeneti will not lift a finger to stop discrimination unless he is explicitly asked to do so. Justice Carpeneti's explanation about why he has done nothing reminded me of the quote from Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." It was amazing to watch the chief justice justify his inaction.
    9. Not one bit of evidence that Judge Postma has actually done something wrong. All that was established is that he had a duty to report racial discrimination, that several unnamed presiding judges, court system administrators and employees are upset that he did so, and that Judge Postma has endured nearly a year of threats, intimidation and harassment because of a lack of leadership and the existence of thuggery in the courthouse.

    As an observer, I must say that Judge Postma's four-hour testimony was, literally, one of the bravest things I have ever seen. It was literally David versus Goliath. It made me proud that a person like him is in the court system standing up for others and the truth. I sure hope the Judicial Council votes to retain him, and I think two members did commit to voting for his retention. After what was said yesterday, I don't see how the other members could sleep at night if they don't vote to recommend his retention. It was amazing.

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  10. Someone needs to further investigate!!!!!! Judge Postma has been complaining of discrimination in the work place for the past year, not now after the ethics complaint. There are some BIG problems in our judicial system. How can we make sure Judge Postma is retained?

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  11. The vote was tallied up this week and six voted against retention and one voted for it. This officially has gone beyond ridiculous. Apparently, Judge Postma will now get to campaign in an effort to clear his name. Something terrible has been happening at the courthouse and when/if it gets out, the courts reputation is going to be severely tarnished.

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  12. The vote was 1-5, the Chief Justice doesn't vote unless there is a tie.

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  13. This whole thing is just bizarre. I know Judge Postma, not very well but well enough that I find it really difficult to believe that he is mentally unstable. Something fishy is definitely going on and I really hope the truth comes out BEFORE the retention vote. That said, Judge Postma would do well in ditching his current attorney (anyone attached to Palin is poison at this point) and if he is going to stick with the allegations of racial discrimination, he had better come out publicly with some very good evidence in support of such allegations. People seem to think racism doesn't exist anymore and just roll their eyes whenever people say that it does. I think they are ignorant for believing racism is extinct, but that is just the way most members of the public see it these days.

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