Johnson v. Municipality of Anchorage
In Johnson v. Municipality of Anchorage, 475 P.3d 1128 (Alaska Ct. App. 2020), the court of appeals held that although a judge’s prior service as a municipal prosecutor did not disqualify her from presiding over a criminal case, her prior service as a municipal prosecutor on a particular case disqualified her from presiding over later probation revocation hearings. (Id. at 1129). In 2014, District Court Judge Chung presided over Johnson’s jury trial on charges of assault, family violence, and driving while his license was suspended or revoked. (Id.). Johnson’s guilty verdict and his plea of no contest in a separate 2014 case led to the revocation of his probation in three prior assault cases—two from 2006 and one from 2012. (Id.). Johnson argued for Judge Chung’s recusal prior to his jury trial because of her service as a supervising prosecutor in the Municipality’s domestic violence unit and representation of the Municipality in his two 2006 cases. (Id. at 1129–30). Judge Chung declined to recuse herself and sentenced Johnson to a term of imprisonment. (Id.). On appeal, Johnson argued that although the judicial disqualification statutes, AS 22.20.020(a)(5)–(6), only disqualify a judge who previously served as an attorney against or for one of the parties if the service was within the previous two years, Judge Chung’s prior service created the appearance of bias. (Id. at 1133). The court of appeals partially reversed the district court’s decision, distinguishing between the three matters involving Johnson before Judge Chung that she did not prosecute and the two 2006 cases that she did. (Id.). The court upheld Judge Chung’s decision not to recuse herself in the former three matters, reasoning that Alaska precedent counsels that prior service as a prosecutor generally is insufficient to disqualify a judge from presiding over a case. (Id.). However, the court determined that Judge Chung’s service as a prosecutor over Johnson’s 2006 cases warranted her recusal because the judicial disqualification statute and its legislative history prohibit a judge from presiding over the same lawsuit or controversy that she previously served as a prosecutor on. (Id. at 1134–35).