Retirement Didn’t Kill Need to Sanction Judge

     (CN) – The Alaska Supreme Court ordered the removal a Bethel judge who retired in 2011, finding that the misconduct allegations still present a live controversy.
     Deputy Attorney General Richard Svobodny initiated the proceedings against Judge Dennis Cummings by telling the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct in June 2011 that Cummings had engaged in an improper ex parte communication with Ben Wohlfeil, an assistant district attorney in his district, Bethel.
     After the commission entered formal charges, Wohlfeil testified at a March 2012 hearing that Cummings had encouraged him to read certain Alaska Court of Appeals opinions relevant to matters he was currently litigating.
     Finding that the opinions were indeed relevant to cases he was litigating in Cummings’ court, Wohlfeil notified his supervisor and opposing counsel.
     Cummings said he did not recall this conversation, but the commission ultimately found that the evidence proved otherwise. It also noted that Cummings approached Wohlfeil the next day to see if he had read the opinions.
     Though Cummings had retired in December 2011, the commission recommended removing him from the bench.
     The Alaska Supreme Court agreed Friday, noting that Cummings had been disciplined in the past for a similar ex parte communication.
     “Judge Cummings committed judicial misconduct – his ex parte communication was an intentional attempt to affect the outcome of pending litigation,” Justice Daniel Winfree wrote for a four-member panel.
     “Judge Cummings harmed the public when violating his ethical duty to the legal system and creating the appearance of impropriety,” Winfree added.

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