Amidon v. State

In Amidon v. State, 604 P.2d 575, 577 (Alaska 1979) the defendants sought to disqualify the sentencing judge under the statutory provision that is now numbered AS22.20.020(a)(9). This subsection of the statute provides that a judicial officer is disqualified in any court action in which "the judicial officer feels that, for any reason, a fair and impartial decision cannot be given". In Amidon, the supreme court recognized that a judge who is challenged under this provision of the statute must, in essence, conduct an assessment of their own attitudes and emotions, and reach a conclusion as to whether they personally feel that they could be fair. If the judge concludes that they could be fair, "this decision should be given substantial weight", and an appellate court should reverse the judge's decision "only if it amounted to an abuse of discretion". Amidon, 604 P.2d at 577. The supreme court concluded that the error would be deemed harmless unless a party made a timely objection to the procedural irregularity. 604 P.2d at 577. The "abuse of discretion" standard of review is appropriate in this context because, when a judge decides whether they are subjectively capable of being fair, the judge must not only assess the facts of the case but must also engage in self-examination to gauge the effect that these facts might have on the judge's decisionmaking process. Under the "abuse of discretion" standard of review, a judge's conclusion that they could remain fair and impartial is accorded great deference; an appellate court should reverse the judge's decision only if that decision "is clearly untenable or unreasonable". Or, as the supreme court expressed this concept in Amidon, "we will not overturn the judge's decision unless it is plain that a fair-minded person could not rationally come to that conclusion on the basis of the known facts." Id. at 577. In Amidon, the supreme court discussed the circumstances under which a judge's decision might be shown to be clearly unreasonable: "Cases can be imagined in which the refusal of the judge to disqualify himself would be patently unreasonable in light of the objective facts. A showing of actual bias in the decision rendered ... or the appearance of partiality might be sufficient grounds for us to reverse in an appropriate case. Where only the appearance of partiality is involved, however, we will require a greater showing for reversal." Id., 604 P.2d at 577. In Amidon, 604 P.2d at 577, the supreme court declared that "the appearance of partiality might be sufficient grounds for us to reverse a judge's refusal to recuse themself in an appropriate case."