Senators give thumbs-down to controversial Parnell appointee

JUNEAU -- A Senate committee Friday took the rare step of urging the Legislature to vote down Gov. Sean Parnell's appointee to the Alaska Judicial Council because, among other issues, he believes that sex outside of marriage should be a crime.

Parnell picked Don Haase for one of three public seats on the council in charge of the nominations for who should be a judge in Alaska.

Haase, who does electrical and mechanical design work at the trans-Alaska pipeline terminal in Valdez, was a leader in Eagle Forum Alaska, a group that advocates for social conservative issues.

Members of the judiciary committee said they were opposing Haase because of his constitutional views rather than his political leanings. Fairbanks Democratic Sen. Joe Paskvan said Alaska's Constitution's guarantee of the right to privacy is perhaps the strongest in the nation.

"Mr. Haase's views when it comes to premarital or extramarital sex are views that I think directly infringe and challenge whether there is a constitutional right of privacy in Alaska," Paskvan said. "It's deeply troubling to me that he wants government to enter into those areas, and not just enter into them but make criminal that activity." There was no roll-call vote on the motion to give Haase a thumbs-down, but all five members of the panel signed a document recommending a "no" vote when his nomination reaches the full Legislature.

Haase's nomination will go to a vote of the entire House and Senate meeting in joint session next Friday. Parnell has said he is standing by Haase as his judicial council pick although he doesn't share his nominee's views on criminalizing sexual activity.

Haase expressed those views during his confirmation before the judiciary committee last week.

A blog post on the Eagle Forum Alaska site had praised efforts at criminalizing adultery in Michigan, and Paskvan asked Haase whether he thought it should be a felony in Alaska.

"I don't see that that would rise to the level of a felony," Haase said. Paskvan: "Do you believe it should be a crime?"

Haase: "Yeah, I think it's very harmful to have extramarital affairs. It's harmful to children, it's harmful to the spouse who entered a legally binding agreement to marry the person that's cheating on them."

Paskvan: "What about premarital affairs -- should that be a crime?"

Haase: "I think that would be up to the voters, certainly. If it came before (the state) as a vote, I probably would vote for it ... I can see where it would be a matter for the state to be involved with because of the spread of disease and the likelihood that it would cause violence. I can see legitimate reasons to push that as a crime."

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski made the motion Friday for the judiciary committee to recommend the Legislature reject Haase. Wielechowski said Haase had made statements "that I deem were not fit for this position."

Paskvan said he's also disturbed that Haase, a former candidate for the Legislature, had indicated on a survey that he would like to strip the judicial council of its role under the Constitution.

The council was set up in the Alaska Constitution to vet applicants for judgeships. The idea was to prevent the politics that come when governors directly pick judges or when judges run for office. The council vets applicants for district, superior and appellate courts, including the Alaska Supreme Court. It submits at least two names for each vacancy for the governor to choose from.

Some governors, including Frank Murkowski, have objected that the council ties their hands and prevents them from picking the judges they want.

North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill, whose district includes Haase's hometown of Valdez, said he'll personally support Haase's nomination.

Coghill said he knows Haase and is confident he'd abide by his oath and pick judges fairly. But Coghill, who is a member of the judiciary committee, did not object to the committee's recommendation that the Legislature vote Haase down.

The council includes three public members, including the wife of former U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller, a national tea party figure. The council also includes three attorneys chosen by the state bar's board of governors. The chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court chairs the council and is the tiebreaker when necessary.

Wielechowski objected to Haase on the basis of regional balance. Haase would replace a member from Ketchikan. That would leave Southeast Alaska without a public seat on the judicial council, which has only happened for two years in the 52 years the council has been in existence.

The state constitution includes a mandate that judicial council appointments be considered by "area representation." That has been interpreted to mean one public member from each of the state's three most-populous judicial districts.

Coghill said it shouldn't be an issue because one of the attorneys on the council lives in Juneau, as does the chief justice of the state supreme court.

He said Valdez has never had a council member.