Bethel Community members are reacting to the Walker Administration’s firing of District Attorney, June Stein. While working in the office Sunday, Stein received a letter, delivered from a Deputy Attorney General informing her of her quote “impending release.” The state so far is not explaining why she’s being fired.
Stein did not want to be recorded but said in an interview her termination came as a surprise. It was no surprise to local attorney Jim Valcarce, who often argues cases in her court and says he’s been sounding the alarm about Stein to anyone who would listen, including the Governor.
“She was not effective, she catered to certain white segments of the population, in my opinion, and she failed to work with those that needed our support the most,” said Valcarce.
Valcarce, a 20-year Bethel attorney who served on Governor Walker’s transition team for public safety, said he saw a troubling trend in the Bethel court under Stein’s leadership.
“Young men in this area pleading out at arraignment to DV Assault 4’s. Their lives are ruined. Their never gonna work in any state jobs, they’re never gonna work in the good jobs in the village. And it sounds great when you say we’re being tough on crime, we’re putting away these wife beaters. You know, DV is so broad out here. That’s why we have the highest rate of domestic violence cause DV is anybody – if it was a former girlfriend, if you lived together, brothers, sisters,” said Valcarce.
Valcarce thinks most young, first time offenders shouldn’t end up in jail. He advocates for tribal courts, where the community is actively involved in resolving misdemeanors and low-level offences and what he calls ‘smart justice’.
Myron Angstman, another attorney who has worked in Bethel for 40 years, has a different opinion.
“She’s consistent, she works hard and she is competent,” said Angstman.
He says the position Stein filled is a difficult one, because of the huge caseload and the transience of attorneys willing to work in the bush and he worries about her departure.
“It’s a tough position to fill. And you just don’t cut loose somebody who’s doing a decent job without a plan. And I have no knowledge of whether they have a plan. But I can tell you this without a question, I have misgivings about whether their plan will work if they have one because people who show up here don’t always work out here,” said Angstman.
Florina Altshiler was a prosecutor based in Anchorage for a couple of years and worked several trials in Bethel with Stein.
“The impression that I got was that she was very dedicated to the office, and to the Bethel community and to doing her job. She would literally wake up, work, and then go to sleep and repeat,” said Altshiler.
Altshiler is no longer with the Department of Law. She’s originally from New York City and works in New York State now.
In an interview Stein said about her firing, “I didn’t believe it would happen because I didn’t think a defense attorney would be able to get me fired,” referring to Valcarce.
Valcarce says he has been outspoken about his opposition to the way Stein had been running the office. He says he doesn’t know if his complaints had anything to do with her firing. The Governor’s office confirms Stein has been fired, but won’t comment further because it’s a personnel issue.
Stein is originally from New York City. She worked on the Kenai Peninsula, where she was also a controversial figure before taking her position in Bethel. She’s also worked in New Mexico.
KYUK Reporter Ben Matheson Contributed to this story.