Alaska Supreme Court removes retired Bethel judge

by Angela Denning-Barnes on January 24, 2013

Dennis Cummings, a former District Court Judge at the Bethel Court House, was officially removed from the bench by the Alaska Supreme Court. The decision took place last week and although Cummings retired last year, the court found it was still obligated to complete its disciplinary proceedings.

The court document stated, “we consider this matter a live controversy.”

In question was whether or not Cummings judicial misconduct was cause enough to have him removed as a district court judge for the State of Alaska. He had twice been found by the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct to have had improper ex parte communications, once in 2008 and again in 2011. That means as a judge, he communicated with just one side of a trial off-record which is not allowed. In 2009, the Commission found that he passed a note to an Alaska State Trooper which contained evidence about a trial. The next day in court, he passed a second note to the trooper and the prosecutor, which also contained trial evidence. In 2011, Cummings told a prosecutor twice off-record to look at an opinion that would help his case.

The Alaska Supreme Court found that his ex parte communication was an intentional attempt to affect the outcome of pending litigation. The court said that it demonstrated bias for the prosecution. They said Cummings violated his ethical duty to the legal system.

It is the first time in Alaska history that the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended a judge be removed from the bench.

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