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Judge Terrence Haas’ departure leaves approximately 450 cases to be reassigned

The Nora Guinn Justice Center in Bethel, Alaska on July 14, 2023.
Josiah Swope
The Nora Guinn Justice Center in Bethel, Alaska on July 14, 2023.

This past September, Bethel Superior Court Judge Terrence Haas was selected by the governor to serve as the Chief Public Defender for the State of Alaska. In his new role, he will lead the public defender agency, ensuring that the state provides quality criminal defense. As the head judge in Bethel and one of two Superior Court Judges, he ruled on about half of the criminal cases in the fourth district.

The new position doesn’t begin until December, but Haas has recused himself from ruling on his cases as a judge before then because of the appearance of conflict of interest.

Haas had approximately 450 cases that need to be reassigned. Reassigning cases to new judges can be done in a variety of ways. Candice Duncan, area court administrator for the Fourth Judicial District, explained.

“One of the options that we sometimes have is utilizing judges who are retired for pro tem work. So they come in on a temporary basis out of retirement to take on cases, either singly or numerous cases, just depending on what's needed. So that may be one option. And then also transferring cases to already sitting judges to handle is another option for some cases as well.”

Some of Haas’ cases have already been reassigned, but many are still waiting at the crossroads. Duncan said that it’s the same process they go through when judges retire, and that there’s a gap during the handover. They try to get the cases reassigned as soon as they can. In the meantime, some people are in jail, awaiting a new judge to rule on pending motions.

Twenty-two-year-old Jalen Minock has been in jail for two years, and has been awaiting sentencing for six months. Minock was found guilty by a jury as an accomplice in attempted murder when shots were fired into a home with 12 people in it. He could serve more than 100 years in jail.

Minock's defense has filed a motion that will decide on whether he'll get a new trial, be acquitted, or be sentenced. He’s waiting for a ruling.

In October, the defense asked Haas for a ruling on the pending motion at a status hearing. Haas decided to recuse himself because of what could be seen as impropriety. It has been assigned to another judge now. Haas said that he thought he would have more time to wrap up his caseload.

“I'll note that when I was first nominated, I started organizing things to try to get things taken care of. And the governor acted orders of magnitude more quickly than in previous instances,” Haas said at the hearing. “So I anticipated at least a month. And I think we got it, I think he got it taken care of in about a week and a half. So that was much quicker than anticipated.”

Judge Brent Bennett of Fairbanks will need to work through the previous trial and decide whether or not there will be a new trial, or whether the defendant will be acquitted on some or all of the charges. The next status hearing will be on Dec. 12 to see if the new judge needs more time to rule on the defense’s motion.

“Judge Bennett should indicate in the log notes. So we need to get that done. I don't know what's the Latin. Lickety split, we'll get it done lickety split,” Haas said.

While that case has been reassigned, there are plenty of others still waiting.

Last week, the Alaska Judicial Council announced the applicants to fill Haas’ vacancy. In January, the Judicial Council will hold meetings to learn about the applicants before passing on recommendations to the governor. After that, the governor will select a judge within 45 days.

Duncan made sure to mention Haas’ legacy in the community, including his membership in a number of court committees that were instrumental in implementing new technology, and for serving as a leader during the pandemic.

Sunni is a reporter and radio lover. Her favorite part of the job is sitting down and having a good conversation.
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