Written by: Sarah A. Badten
After practicing law in Alaska for about a year, I began to question the requirements of AS 09.68.130, Alaska Civil Rule 41(a)(3) and Appellate Rule 511(e), all of which required the submission of information about the resolution of civil cases to the Alaska Judicial Counsel when a case was dismissed. My entire practice involved civil cases, which meant that for every single case I dismissed, I had to log on and enter information about each case into the required database. Because I filed many lawsuits that tended to resolve quickly, I was continually entering information into this database and billing clients to do so.
After filling these forms out for about seven years, I started to question why was this form required? Who looks at the information on this form? What are they doing with the information? I did not like the answers I received as it turned out that NO ONE was doing anything with the information. NO ONE was even looking at the information.
I felt compelled to take action. One of my partners at the time told me that the Anchorage Bar Association had attempted to repeal the reporting requirement, but nothing came of it. After hearing this news I did a little research of my own and found Resolution 2007-1 by the Anchorage Bar Association, passed in 2007 that encouraged the Alaska Bar Association to work with the Alaska Judicial Council and the Alaska Legislature to secure the repeal of AS 09.68.130, Alaska Civil Rule 41(a)(3), and Appellate Rule 511(e).
After discovering the resolution in June, 2014, I emailed Susanne DiPietro at the Alaska Judicial Counsel and asked her about the history of Resolution 2007-1. Susanne related:
The legislature passed the civil case reporting requirement in 1997 to help gauge the consequences of tort reform enacted that same year. The Council then began collecting the civil case information as directed. We issued analyses of the data in 2000 and 2001. In our 2001 report we recommended that the legislature eliminate the automatic reporting requirement and substitute a requirement that information be provided only in response to a specific request from the Council. The idea was to provide a more targeted and less burdensome method of compiling information about the compromise or other resolution of civil cases. We followed up on that recommendation in 2010 with a specific request to the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to repeal AS 9.68.130; however, the law was not changed.
I felt defeated but what could I do? It seemed like a lost cause. I continued to fill out the form.
Out of the blue in February of 2015, I received an email from Susanne DiPietro to tell me that House Bill 83 was in front of the legislature to repeal the reporting requirement and that the legislature was hearing public testimony that coming Friday! If someone was going to listen, I was going to tell them about this ridiculous reporting requirement which never got reviewed and the data never utilized.
I showed up that Friday and testified in front of the legislature for the first of many times. I informed the legislators about how the purported purpose of this requirement was to assess tort reform, but that I practiced contract law, therefore any data I entered would skew any tort reform analysis. I testified about how no one looks at the data, and that if the information is not used, then it is a complete waste of time and our clients’ money to fulfill this requirement. I testified that this requirement served no purpose and should be repealed. I was doing the best I could to get the legislators to FEEL MY PAIN. I’m not sure it worked.
During that time I learned a lot about the legislative process. Did you know that if a bill does not get passed during the specific two-year legislative session in which it was raised, that it is automatically quashed and you have to start all over again with a new bill for the next session? That lesson was learned the hard way. After testifying over and over to various House and Senate committees, the bill got all the way to the final vote required for it to pass the legislature in 2016… but then it was never put on the schedule for the final vote (I’m told for political reasons involving a squabble between legislators). The session was up. The bill was quashed. We would have to start over.
Luckily, at that first legislative hearing, I met Ken Jacobus, a fellow attorney in town who had similar concerns about the reporting requirement. Ken had been working to get it repealed almost since the day it took effect. (The Alaska Bar Rag published an article written by Ken regarding the requirement in its January-March 2017 issue.) We became friends over our mutual dislike for this reporting requirement. He told me not to lose heart, and that we would continue the good fight. Luckily, we did.
Before the start of the 2017 legislative session, Ken sent a letter to several legislators regarding the reporting requirement, and this time he got the entire House Judiciary Committee to sponsor the bill. Miraculously, the bill sped through the House and Senate committees in one year! Ken and I testified at every single public hearing and then waited to see what would happen. The bill had met all the requirements for passing the legislature, but it still had to be signed by the Governor before it would be enacted into law.
Almost a month passed and nothing happened. We were starting to fret. Ken made some calls. It turned out that it is a small tradition for the Governor to sign bills into law at the annual bar convention, which was being held this year in Juneau. Ken spoke with the Governor’s office and hinted that it would be great if the Governor signed this bill into law at the convention. It worked! The bill was transferred to the Governor and on May 12, 2017, at the annual bar convention, the Governor signed HB 104 into law and just like that… the reporting requirement was repealed.
Mission accomplished. Life is good.