Nome judge recommended for public censure

Picture and brief résumé of Nome Superior Court Judge Timothy Dooley. Image, text: Alaska Department of Law.
Picture and brief résumé of Nome Superior Court Judge Timothy Dooley. Image, text: Alaska Department of Law.

At a disciplinary hearing last week, Nome Superior Court Judge Timothy Dooley admitted to violating the state code of judicial conduct by making inappropriate statements to victims and witnesses. The Alaska Committee of Judicial Conduct has recommended that he be publicly censured, assigned a mentor judge, and encouraged to undergo sensitivity training.

During the Thursday hearing in Anchorage, Dooley reversed his earlier stance on the six charges brought against him in May. He had previously denied all wrongdoing. But before the commission, Dooley acknowledged the insensitivity of his comments and apologized.

“Those are my statements. I don’t dispute them,” Dooley said. “I probably caused grief for some victim, perhaps. I’m also regretful that I caused trouble for the staff at the Nome court. They don’t deserve to have a judge who goes off the high dive and lands on the rocks.”

The statements in question spanned from May of 2013 — when Dooley first took the bench — to September of last year. The first violation occurred at a hearing, when Dooley asked a defendant accused of resisting arrest:

“You don’t have to answer this question, but has anything good ever come out of drinking except for sex with a pretty girl?”

Addressing that comment, Dooley told the commission his statement came out differently than he intended.

“In the last couple weeks, I’ve learned that people thought I meant to get the girl drunk, so you can have sex with a girl who’s drunk — which is of course a crime,” he said. “I didn’t mean that. Basically, [I meant to] get yourself drunk so you have the false courage to ask a girl to dance or whatever.”

Dooley also said he was speaking as if he were still a private practitioner, looking to build rapport with a client. As a judge, though, he said he has since learned to “screen” his statements and “quit going off the script.”

Dooley’s attorney — William Satterberg, Jr. — emphasized that was a learning process the judge had to go through largely on his own. Dooley is the only superior court judge in Nome. And when he was appointed in May of 2013 by then-Gov. Sean Parnell, Nome’s magistrate judge was out on leave.

Satterberg argued that left Dooley overwhelmed and without help as he assumed his new position.

“Let’s keep in mind here that Judge Dooley literally was tossed into the system cold, completely cold … without any guidance, without any pre-training, with just rapid cases on the desk,” Satterberg said.

Satterberg told the commission that Dooley’s violations came from a place of “ignorance.” He also asked the panel to recommend training rather than harsher sanctions like public censure, suspension, or permanent removal from office — all of which were on the table.

While the commission accepted that Dooley did not mean to be insensitive, Mera Matthews — who served as special counsel to the commission — said his statements were still harmful, especially to victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault.

“We’re doing everything we can to combat and stem the tide of the pervasive problem of domestic violence and sexual abuse in our state. Nobody would argue that it’s anything other than a scourge,” Matthews said. “And we accept as true that Judge Dooley didn’t intend his comments as anything other than condemning that, but the statements do make light of sexual assault. They do make light of domestic violence.”

Matthews cited Dooley’s first statement — “Has anything good ever come out of drinking except for sex with a pretty girl?” — as well as two later violations.

One occurred at sentencing, when Dooley told a man convicted of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl:

“From what I’ve read, this was not someone who was — I hate to use the phrase ‘asking for it.’ There are girls out there who seem to be temptresses, and this does not appear to be anything like that.”

The other happened during a domestic violence case, when a juror couldn’t hear a witness on the stand and Dooley said: “I’m sorry, folks, but I can’t slap her around to make her talk louder.”

After over an hour of deliberation, the commission recommended Dooley be publicly censured, which was the least severe outcome possible and amounts to a public statement of his wrongdoing.

The panel also recommended that Dooley be assigned a mentor judge for one year and that he undergo training on gender sensitivity, cultural awareness, and domestic violence.

The commission’s recommendations will now go before the Alaska Supreme Court, which is ultimately responsible for deciding and enforcing any sanctions against Dooley.