Editor’s note: This article was updated to due to the fact that the location of the Jan. 8 oral arguments in the perjury case against former Alaska Judge Margaret Murphy has been moved from Homer to Anchorage.
In what many judicial reform advocates see as a seminal moment in their ongoing effort to root out corrupt judges and government officials, the criminal case against former Alaska District Judge Margaret Murphy will proceed to public oral arguments at 10 a.m. on Jan. 8 at the Nesbett Courthouse in Anchorage (room 401).
The arguments will also be livestreamed on the Alaska Court System.
Murphy, who served as an Alaska District Judge in Homer before retiring in 2019, has been charged by a state citizen grand jury in Kenai with perjury. If convicted she faces up to 10 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.
Last month, Murphy’s attorney Timothy Petumenos argued that oral arguments in Homer would be “expensive” and entail flying attorneys to and from Homer for the proceedings. Petumenos said the proceeding should be moved to Anchorage and then claimed to “have a concern about security,” noting there is considerable public interest in the case and asserting that there “seems to be some inference in some of [online] posts” that may be attempting to influence the outcome of the trial.
After initially denying the request to move oral arguments out of Homer, presiding Judge Thomas Matthews ultimately agreed to change the venue to Anchorage.
Murphy’s case appears to deal with a 2005 case against David Haeg, who was convicted of illegally hunting wolves via plane. Haeg has long-maintained that Murphy, Alaska Trooper Brett Gibbens and his own defense team illegally conspired to convict him. While this has never been proven in court, a Superior Court Judge has concluded that Murphy and the trooper were too closely connected, and that Murphy should not have handled Haeg’s case.
Why would judges not want grand juries to investigate judges, especially when our constitution says that is their most important duty?– David Haeg
Over the past two decades, Haeg has spearheaded a much larger effort to root out judicial corruption throughout Alaska’s court system. A vital component of this mission is to empower citizen-led grand juries in their constitutionally-guaranteed authority to investigate and indict corrupt judges and officials without interference.
In particular, Haeg and others associated with the judicial reform group, Alaska Grand Jurors’ Association, have peacefully demonstrated in support of the Kenai Grand Jury’s constitutional authority to investigate Murphy as well as a number of other judicial corruption allegations, which they believe could result in additional charges against more government officials and judges.
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The work of the Alaska Grand Jurors’ Association to inform, empower and equip grand jurors has drawn the attention of the Alaska Supreme Court, which issued Court Order 1993 about a year ago in an attempt to place restrictions on a state grand jurors’ authority to investigate and indict corrupt judges and public officials.
Nevertheless, the Kenai grand jury proceeded with the charges, which has led to the current case against Murphy.
“Why would judges not want grand juries to investigate judges, especially when our constitution says that is their most important duty,” Haeg said earlier this year. “It is a very important thing, not only for us but for all future Alaskans, that we preserve the grand jury’s right to investigate wrongdoing by judges, because we now know that those judges and the court system will try to not have investigations into what they’re doing.”
The advocacy and public outreach effort of Alaska Grand Juror’s Association appears to be gaining traction. An August pretrial hearing in the Murphy case, which only lasted nine minutes, was packed with judicial reform advocates.