This is a continuation of the interview with Judge Beverly Cutler on January 25, 2012 by Karen Brewster and Margaret Russell at her home in Palmer, Alaska. In this part of the interview, Judge Cutler talks about being a female judge, starting the superior court in Palmer, community involvement of judges, balancing family and career, making difficult decisions, and her views on mandatory sentencing laws.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Judges of Alaska
Date of Interview: Jan 25, 2012
Narrator(s): Judge Beverly Cutler
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster, Margaret Russell
Videographer: Karen Brewster
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Being a female judge
First coming to Palmer as Superior Court judge
Earning respect as a new, young, female judge
Lack of support for a female judge in Palmer
Balancing worklife with raising a family
Effect on children from having a working mother
Starting the court in Palmer
Relationships between courts
Involvement of the judge in the community
Staying connected to other lawyers and judges
Community consequences of decisions made on the bench
Responding to criticism
Judge's responsibility to remain unbiased and uphold the law
Making the tough decisions
Sentencing criminal defendants
Trying juveniles as adults (juvenile waiver laws)
Mandatory sentencing laws
Good trial experiences
Judge's visibility and adoption day parties
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. We are at you setting up the court here in Palmer and what was that like to come and start something -- well, I guess I’ll step back a second.
You were the first woman appointed as a superior court judge, that is correct?
BEVERLY CUTLER: You know I think that is true and I think that it was a big deal at the time,
except also because it was not Anchorage it probably was not quite as big a deal as that
became because I think that was really where, you know, you were joining a bench that was, you know, there was no bench to join out here.
And in retrospect I think I'm really glad because, you know, I might not even have gotten the job.
I think it was easier for them just to pick a really good person for the job and not worry too much about whether they were integrating an all male bench.
I didn’t tell you this, but I thought this was a good thing that belongs in your annals or whatever.
When I got to the Anchorage District Court, even though Dorothy Tyner had been there as a judge.
And this was the old district court building that is now the park.
The 303 K Street was the new building and for superior court and the district court building is now gone.
But there was a long corridor of the five courtrooms and there were a couple more they built on the side, but there were the five main courtrooms for the main judges from the old days.
In fact, I think that was the first court building and probably had everybody’s district and superior there early in statehood.
And in the back hallway on the door of the bathroom it still said "Trial Court Judges - Private."
On what had become the men’s room. I mean it was still that much -- and even though Dorothy Tyner had been there she never got it changed.
And they gave her a courtroom over -- she had the courtroom what was called Courtroom 2.
It was a big courtroom on the side, but it probably had a little bathroom in the chambers.
I think maybe that was built to be the superior courtroom and then when they moved to the Boney Building,
when it was new, it freed that up. But I just thought it was remarkable
that the men’s room was labeled "Trial Court Judges - Private" as opposed to there being a men’s room and a women’s room, so, but --
Anyway, when I came out to Palmer, well, first of all I drove out for about a month, so I didn’t even come permanently because it was October, November.
And, but I started working in the court right away and there was just --
I had done district court judge work out here so I felt I knew the place and they knew me.
What we used -- because Dorothy Saxton was a lay magistrate as I explained, not a law magistrate like Karen Hegyi,
for all the years I was in district court once a month a judge from Anchorage came out to do the district court work in Palmer.
And so you worked with the staff and you used the courthouse space.
So I felt very familiar with that and I had signed up a lot to go to Palmer anyway because of our property out here.
So I -- it wasn’t like going to a brand new place.
It was a little challenging in that the court staff was very small and, you know, you didn’t get to hire your own staff.
You were just stuck with the staff that came out here and they were, you know, pretty much wonderful and everything, but I think even
their view of a judge was probably a male judge so you sort of had to navigate through that. It was not too difficult.
They did have -- actually Dorothy Saxton had retired before I came out here and they had a law trained magistrate then they did named Brian Johnson, who was very nice and we
still I mean we're basically the same age and still here in Alaska doing -- I think he's retired now.
He became one of the Anchorage committing magistrates for a long time, but he only stayed about a year and a half after I came.
And I felt badly about that. And I really think it was because of the following.
And it wasn’t because we didn’t get along, I think it just wasn’t the same for him, you know, when there hadn’t been a judge, he got to do much more of the judge work.
And when a real judge came out, then he got relegated more to the, you know, low level traffic stuff and clerical and it was --
at least it was very amicable, but I always felt sort of badly because I could understand how that would feel, you know, if that -- and he didn’t even apply for the superior court judge.
I don’t think he wanted it. He's one of these
Alaska lawyer types that likes to mush dogs and do other things that, you know, you need a little more leave than you could get if you took a judge job.
But the bar had just one maybe woman attorney who was a civil practitioner in Wasilla that I didn’t see much.
You know, we just kind of -- I think at first I think I sort of had to earn my spurs with the bar too, but I don’t think that was a nightmare.
I just think it was sort of normal that if the average lawyer was male and five to ten years older than you,
they're just going to be, well who is this, you know, not who is this chick, you know, they weren’t rude, but
kind of like well, you know, this person is going to have to prove to me that they can do this job.
But I do feel that that pretty much worked out and that with almost all the lawyers there was pretty soon a pretty respectful relationship.
Sometimes it took a particular case with a lawyer.
You know you just had to go through the case and have them get to the end and say, gee, actually that was a fine court experience. I’ll come here in again.
Sometimes I think reputation way precedes you in a negative way that there's nothing you can do about like,
you know, if you've been a public defender, they can say, ah, you know, all they know is criminal law or some people even think ah all public defenders are druggies,
they're all hippies, they're all not real Alaskans like the rest of us that love to hunt and fish.
I mean it's amazing sometimes the, you know, that power of reputation, which is really just gossip sometimes by a disgruntled person.
I also had the advantage of the following and I think this is correct.
I hope my mind isn’t all jumbled in looking back.
I think none of the local lawyers applied for the job.
Certainly none of them were nominated, but I think none of them even applied.
And so I think for all of them -- there weren’t that many local lawyers then either because they came mostly to do juvenile and criminal work and those are the public lawyers, you know, that would come out from Anchorage.
But I think to the extent that none of them really applied they obviously were going to have to accept somebody who wasn’t from their midst.
And so there was definitely an uphill to it, but it was not defeating.
And when I look back on it, it was okay.
But there were some tougher moments just because there're -- there're -- you know, there are times when you just want to be accepted and you think why do I have to prove so hard that I’m really not what, you know.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you have an example of one of those tough times?
BEVERLY CUTLER: Well, I do, but, you know, I'd actually prefer not to give them. I think because the fences are mended.
I really do think. I think one thing that is sort of so buried that most people don’t even remember it, but I think
Senator Kertulla, who I became very fond of and vice versa.
I mean I think were perfectly good relationship.
I think he carried a message to Hammond that was from the local bar that basically said
they don’t really want a woman judge and they particularly don’t want a woman judge who's a carpetbagger.
And I remember Hammond asking me if -- I mean this is really true, you know,
asking me if I was aware of that and he didn’t really think it was going to be a problem and he just thought it was just kind of a stray thing and he knew Jay well and Jay spoke well of me and
he was satisfied that the district court, you know, appointment had been successful. But he just wanted to make sure that if there was
any uphill curve to be climbed that, you know, I was aware of it.
And it's actually -- I mean looking back now that was when the governor interviewed all the applicants, not some governor’s henchman.
Like today, you know, we -- I think we all think all the superior court judges always get interviewed by the governor any more.
But, you know, I just think that was again just almost sort of like little boys being pouty saying we won’t play with the girls and not,
you know, and it really blew over and I -- I don’t mind saying this part of it because I’m very fond of this attorney and I think he's now a retired attorney, but he
certainly is a role model for other attorneys as well as an inspiring lawyer to me here.
This was the grandson of the Snodgrass I mentioned who was the doctor who settled early in the valley before the colonists.
Jack Snodgrass, who was also a very good friend and mentor to Talis Colberg.
Talis is quite a bit younger, but they definitely were very, very good friends.
And the case I had with Jack was a very complicated case about the city of Palmer tax structure.
And basically involved wrapping your brain around
why the taxes were done in a certain way
and particularly with regard to when you come from out of town
and you don’t live in Palmer and you don’t get taxed,
but you still say you use the Palmer Post Office every day because where the heck are you going to go to mail a letter.
You're still using the Palmer plowed street to live your life even though you're out here.
And kind of understanding various things and I just remember at the end of that case,
which Jack did do excellent arguments on,
he just seemed like -- not to change his attitude toward me,
but he seemed to like really appreciate that I understood the argument.
And that I not only could follow it but that, you know, he was right and could say he was right for the right reasons not the wrong reasons.
And I think that really maybe even changed his mind about well, you know, we hear this person who was just a public defender and they just know criminal stuff,
but obviously if you can -- but that was a sort of watershed moment.
And I don’t know if he remembers it that way, but I remember thinking that he looked at me with new --
newer eyes after that and that I felt like I'd finally crossed, you know, that bridge and it wasn’t very long ago --
I mean it wasn’t very long into the job.
I also -- and I haven’t said this much,
but you know I was a very young parent as well.
All the years out here. I had my first child when I'd been in Anchorage District Court maybe three years.
And, you know, I did a lot of work, you know, between three a.m. and five a.m. at home, you know, where you --
you bring home something that you have to read.
You know you have to read it. There's no time during the day.
You really do want to be on the ball and understand the argument and
what are your choices, you know, your choices are to set the alarm for two a.m. to get up and read from two a.m. to five a.m. and, you know --
And I know had to do that on that case and I remember writing the decision
in that case while I was on maternity leave.
Which was never more than nine weeks, you know, before the Family Medical Leave Act.
And kind of thinking, gosh, you know, I’m on leave. I shouldn’t be working.
I shouldn’t need to be working. But I really want to do a good job on this one.
And I’ll never be able to do it when you go back to work.
You can never write some, you know, thirty page decision that's really good when you're working in a busy trial job or at least it seems like you can’t.
And I remember feeling that it was actually worth writing out that decision
even though I did it while I was on maternity leave because it did
allow you to at least earn the respect of the people involved in the case that you really did understand the complex case and you, you know --
So I look back on that now and I think where did you get the energy and how did you survive?
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, that sort of leads to the classic question for a professional woman is how you balance family and work life, especially as a superior court judge. It's a very busy schedule.
BEVERLY CUTLER: Well, it was a very busy schedule and you know I don’t really feel like I have sour grapes about this, but I do feel --
I would never ever say the job cost me my marriage.
I would never say that. I would say I was married to the wrong person to be
able to be in that kind of a marriage
because when you're married to somebody and it needs to be all about them and it's obviously for the 20 years you are raising the kids, you know.
I hate to say you can’t survive unless they agree that they're only about as important as one of the kids,
but, you know, you just -- I mean that's a dilemma for women. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
BEVERLY CUTLER: Even without professions and jobs. I mean even without a janitor’s job I think women have this always
have this incredible dilemma of how to spread themselves around.
And particularly when your kids are young how to keep your husband’s ego from being so bruised that, you know, they leave you.
And I just, I don’t know. I have no solutions for that.
But it was hard in that sense, but I ended up because I had a spouse who wasn’t particularly interested in being helpful in any particular way, and who needed it to be much more about him than it was, that you hire a lot of help.
And so one thing fortunate about the superior court job or the district court job I mean at least I had a job that paid more than minimum wage, which when I --
I think the real heroes are the women that somehow made this work when they're making seven dollars an hour and,
you know, coming home to macaroni and cheese from a box because that's all they can afford, you know.
If you can home to a fresh chicken because you can afford to buy the fresh chicken and afford to pay a babysitter to be here and ask them to put the chicken in before you get home, you know.
And I think the kids actually -- it's really interesting.
One thing I -- I don’t know if saying I’m proud of it is about the right way to say it or not, but
I do feel that all the kids in some way,
even if their mom wasn’t around as much as maybe you ideally wish they were,
I don’t think they resented me working or they were not,
you know, kind of sort of proud sometimes.
I mean, you know, you go through your waves with all kids where, you know, they're totally allergic to parent and,
you know, would never, you know, my mother what does she know, you know, that kind of thing.
But, you know, I do think that that's something you give your kids.
If you have a job you do show them between the lines really -- you don’t show them by shoving it down their throat -- how people survive.
That, you know, people get jobs and they work and I think --
I think it was interesting to all of them. And, of course, some of mine aren’t even really fully grown yet.
They're not certainly not all fully in their own, you know, lives and professions, but that
you work at something that is trying to provide fairness. Trying to provide something that's socially useful.
You know, I think, you know, look, I never would have planned it out that way, but looking back on it I’m so glad
that the kids at least had -- and really I think both their parents tried to do something that was, you know, socially useful,
but particularly, you know, the fairness piece that you're really trying to be fair.
You're not trying to make a lot of money.
You're not - you're not really into capitalism in any way, shape or form.
You're not even making them work in the family business so the business can soar.
You know, your job really is -- and when they would ask questions about things because sometimes they'd hear something in school or, you know, when they are old enough to read something in the paper,
you actually could have some pretty interesting discussions about -- you know.
Of course, there's no perfect justice and there's no -- of course kids in a family. It's not fair. You let him. You're not fair, you know.
The -- You know that -- I would say it was worth the stress of all the middle of the night stuff, you know,
if they at least don’t resent your working and actually hopefully adopt some of that for their own life that there is something you can find to do.
And even get paid for that will, you know, allow you to feel at least you're trying to do something good in your work life.
And while you don’t have -- I mean we never had too much here.
We never had, you know, regular Hawaii vacations or anything like that.
Basically because I had four kids and also I did what you would predict I’m sure from our conversation,
but I let them all go to boarding school if they wanted to go and they all
loved it and it all -- helped all of them I think figure out, you know, who they were. Because, of course, living here at the end of the earth,
not to mention living on this farm, you know, there's -- you can see there's no one to go next door and shoot baskets with or anything like that, but anyhow we're digressing from the --
KAREN BREWSTER: But then --
BEVERLY CUTLER: You were saying how did we --
KAREN BREWSTER: No, you answered that question.
The next question I have is, you know, well sort of back to how you set up the court and got it all running.
And leads into the, you know, being a single judge court?
BEVERLY CUTLER: Yeah and we --
KAREN BREWSTER: And what that's like, and how you do that?
BEVERLY CUTLER: I really should say the following and I started to think about this and say it and then I digressed. But
the state of Alaska DA’s office actually put a resident DA in Palmer before I even got out here.
Which meant we almost came out as a pair.
Not that the judge and the DA are a pair, but I felt,
you know, very much it was like Palmer was growing up.
The valley was growing up and the court is really the court for the valley, but -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
BEVERLY CUTLER: It was a step that a lot of agencies were ready to take and yes, there were growing pains, but I had company is I guess what I'm saying.
I did have -- had to kind of -- what’s the word? I don’t like to use the word fight, but the person who was the presiding judge in Anchorage did not want me to move out here.
He was very much well we're going to use you -- I don’t really think they need a full-time judge in Palmer and we're planning to use you two weeks --
at least two weeks a month on the bench here for,
you know, as long as I can see into the future and I don’t even think you should be moving out there. And I remember kind of saying to him well I think the valley really --
I mean they want to have their own judge and I really think they would want me to live out there and they would want,
you know, that would be an important part of what -- the whole point of appointing a judge to be out there.
And I did move and I really only had to do Anchorage things for about six months regularly.
And it turned out to be much more like a week a month than two weeks a month.
And it sort of, you know, I didn’t defy him, it just, you know, I just thought it was again it was another one of those well we just don’t really believe that Palmer could need a judge,
so we're going to usurp you as a resource.
MARGARET RUSSELL: Was it somewhat helpful to have a continuing relationship with superior court judges in Anchorage when you were first starting out and no longer had that camaraderie --
BEVERLY CUTLER: You know --
MARGARET RUSSELL: Other lawyers and judges around to turn to --
BEVERLY CUTLER: I think so -- MARGARET RUSSELL: -- and otherwise?
BEVERLY CUTLER: And interestingly enough I think the ones that I felt the closest with were probably not the presiding judge and not the,
you know, once in a blue moon a superior court judge would come out to do some kind of a felony.
I actually found that Judge Hanson -- Jim Hanson in Kenai was sort of my mentor in the job because they had set up Kenai
a couple years ahead of us out here and every step was similar along with what you're saying.
He was just incredibly helpful. In fact, he told me -- I don’t mind saying this.
He told me that Anchorage stuff about having to go there and sit on the bench one week a month or two, it was baloney and I should tell them that, but, of course,
as a good female I’m thinking about being more conciliatory and not burning any bridges. And I wasn’t,
you know, I wasn’t as brash as he might have been in telling them, you know, off.
But he was certainly my source of sort of comfort in how to navigate that.
And then pretty soon we also had other women judges. So I don’t think it was the women -- woman thing. I think --
I think even to this day the courts that are not Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, but that are outside of Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau will always feel
we are somewhat under resourced or somewhat underserved or somewhat underappreciated.
We actually probably do more work per judge than they do, but we don’t have all these nice little things like, you know, Mental Health Court or the Custody Investigator or whatever it is.
And they think they're the only real, you know --
They think they're functioning at a higher level than we are.
And there's always going to be that tension and I think there still is that and I just --
I think women try to bridge and be conciliatory and make things work,
and try to do what you're told, but try to give your own family circle or court building what it needs.
And, I mean, I would not say that was the most stressful part of the job at all. It was just there, and
I don’t think in the Alaska Court System that's any worse than in any other branch of government or particularly any better.
You know it's just always -- and it's almost what you could call just the battle of the haves and have not’s.
It's always easy to look over your shoulder and feel that, you know, somebody else has more than you, but --
KAREN BREWSTER: I’m also -- I'm wondering too about this, you know, you sort of alluded to it. Living out here.
When you're a judge in a small community and you live in that community, and what that's like and how that affects your relationships with other people in a community?
And if you being involved in your community or should you not be involved in your community? BEVERLY CUTLER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: And how you balance all that?
BEVERLY CUTLER: I think it's very, you know, your observation is very true.
And when we have time I would really like to talk a little more about just the actual judging part because to me that was always the real part of the job
was being the judge in the courtroom or writing out the decision.
And not being a figurehead in the community, not being a politician.
Although some people really like the latter more than the former. And
I was just about to end the previous little segment we did by saying that, you know, even when those administrative things seemed
thorny or annoying or whatever,
my response -- because that was just how I reacted to the job is -- I would just go back in the courtroom and hear more cases.
I just preferred to do the actual hands-on cases in the courtroom and at the desk
much more than I preferred any other part of the job, including,
you know, leading to your question being a community figure.
And I know that for other people sometimes the whole reason they want to be in the job is they want just the opposite.
I mean, really they'll do the cases when they have to, but they just like the whole persona thing, you know.
For me, I never lived right in Palmer. We've always lived out here. I take that back.
We house-sat - the first several months I was in the job coincided with the legislative session and we house-sat at the home of someone in downtown Palmer who was in Juneau for the session
while we finished, you know, putting windows in this house and things like that.
So, you know, that was my only time.
But because I had kids, you know, you're going in and out of the schools all the time.
You're going in and out of, you know, the gyms and soccer game and I -- my personal habit or whatever you call it is, I like to go swimming every day.
So I would swim at the Palmer High pool every day.
I don’t go to church. I didn’t have any church affiliation.
I never did anything like lead a Girl Scout Troop as opposed to just like put your kid in Girl Scouts but not, you know, be the troop leader or anything.
And I actually personally think it's better for a judge to be aloof and not be too involved,
because I think it's harder to be fairer the more you know.
That can lead to any kind of emotional connection that that could possibly even in the back of your mind color --
I mean like when you guys came out today I was completely prepared to want to like you and to welcome you here, but I'm sure if we had run into each other at the Alaska Club and just striking up a conversation in,
you know, because you're putting on your socks the same time I’m putting on my socks, you know, I have the feeling we would get along, we would find things that are interesting to ourselves
other than this conversation. But how emotional connection can color, like if one of you was to come in for a custody case or a divorce just on the basis of the two hour conversation we've had
it would be hard for me not to kind of want to -- of course I want it to come out fair for both people, but it would be hard for me to think,
even though it's only a two hour conversation we've had that if her husband said these really awful things that
he's probably making it up because she seemed really nice, you know, I mean all those things that go into how you quote --
KAREN BREWSTER: But that's the -- BEVERLY CUTLER: -- judge.
KAREN BREWSTER: I would think that would be the challenge of being a judge. BEVERLY CUTLER: You know. KAREN BREWSTER: Anyway.
BEVERLY CUTLER: And yet, the modern trend is, you know, to try to make judges like sort of the mini-politicians and make sure that we really get in there and be these community stalwarts and stuff.
And I don’t know. Personally I think I am more --
it's hard to believe I'm shy and withdrawn, but I -- I would much rather
spend the evening at home reading a book or watching the news or taking a bath then I would go out.
My husband and I never go out.
We don’t hardly go see movies.
I mean, I see maybe a movie every five years usually with a kid or something.
We just completely withdraw from the community the whole time.
But I did the soccer games. I did the going to the school conferences.
That was enough for me and it was almost too much because, you know, you go in there --
oh, Judge Cutler, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Or they'd say aren’t you Judge Cutler? It says here Lucia Weaver. Yeah, I’m her mom, you know.
I mean it was not -- it was never over the top, but you definitely -- there was a lot of it and I think personally my reaction is just to withdraw and not be too involved.
And other people, some people just like the limelight or the attention more.
MARGARET RUSSELL: What about your relationship with other lawyers? Did you miss having that easy going relationship when you can --
BEVERLY CUTLER: Absolutely miss all the connection whether it's other lawyers or just other people. And I think,
you know, and often will tell people when they want to become a judge that, you know, it's, of course, depending on
one, your personality and two, where you draw lines ethically, you know.
It can be a very lonely job because you really --
there weren’t that many -- You know, my old friends were in Anchorage, you know, in various legal jobs.
And we kind of kept up with each other somewhat with our young kids, and then you just kind of get into your own life.
But I have -- for the whole time I've been out here, I guess, well maybe not the first 10 or 15 years, but the last 20 years,
I mean, sort of my lifeline to personal relationships have been things like I actually belong to two different women’s book clubs because,
you know, one was not enough when you, you know.
And a women’s bridge group that is just really -- it's just a once a month thing, but, you know, those chances to get together in the privacy of someone’s home with just a bunch of women always seem much safer.
I just -- I am the type of person I don’t even like going to the bar Christmas party.
I -- we don’t even have one all the time and sometimes the bar has one and sometimes they don’t, but I just --
to me that's sort of a chore and you sort of go because you know you should and you know they'll be glad to have you.
And actually it's often enjoyable, it's just we -- we're so on display all the time anyway.
And when you're in court all day, every day, sometimes every 15 minutes you have new people in there that you sort of have to --
or sometimes you have the same people for the whole day or the whole week or all morning or something.
But, you know, so much energy in really I'm going to call extroversion even if you're quiet, you're sort of extroverting on behalf of the court
to explain to people the justice system or whatever that you're just done extroverting. So I come home and so --
KAREN BREWSTER: And also certainly, I'd say you were -- during your tenure there were some tough decisions that came out of your courtroom. And some controversial issues.
BEVERLY CUTLER: I am sure. I mean it would be interesting to me think what you think of versus what I think of --
KAREN BREWSTER: Well I would like to --
BEVERLY CUTLER: Memories vary.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I don’t know.
BEVERLY CUTLER: Convenient thing, you know, we -- like what do they say labor is the most easily forgotten pain.
That's why people have four kids, you know. Whereas, you know --
KAREN BREWSTER: So, well, I would be interested in what do you think were the most controversial within the community and how do you handle that criticism --
BEVERLY CUTLER: Yeah. Within the community -- KAREN BREWSTER: -- that would define you --
BEVERLY CUTLER: Right. Different than -- I mean within Anchorage one thing for Anchorage District Court.
This community here, a few different things. Then sometimes it's a statewide thing.
You know, the way you should deal with them and ideally you remind yourself of this.
And this is not a judge on your list unfortunately, but he was another real character of a judge who in some ways --
well I wouldn’t want to emulate him in all respects.
There were some useful things that he taught me.
And his name was Judge Moody.
And he was actually the presiding judge in Anchorage in the early 70’s when I was a new public defender, he was the PJ.
And you'd go in there to make an argument as a public defender,
and he'd say, "Nah, I know Ms. Cutler, you just arguing on behalf of your client." He was from Alabama.
He totally discounted everything.
"I know you're just stating that on behalf of your client." You know.
And he'd jokingly tell people when they left his courtroom when they were all flustered and he said just punch five when you get out of the elevator which was for the supreme court because they were on the fifth floor.
But what he told me before I was sworn in -- he was really -- again he was a wonderful crusty Alabama guy,
who I think he was really kind of tickled that I got appointed to the bench because we'd a halfway descent relationship.
And he was for some reason open minded about having me there.
He said, "You just remember," he said, "you pleasing all the people all the time you ain’t doing your job."
You know, which was a useful thing to remember because
we've even had I know -- we've had a few public moments.
One time we had someone who was head of the Judicial Council who felt very strongly that we should react more to the criticism of us.
And like when they would get a letter complaining about something, we'd think, well don’t you want to respond? Aren’t you upset?
You know, it's like, you know, you just got to learn to let it go off your back in the sense that
my gosh if you think you're going to straighten out everybody who is angry about what you did and get them to be on your side, one, what planet do you live on?
But two that is just so un-judgelike anyway.
And three, people are entitled to their opinion and, you know,
your conclusion that as it was presented to you this is how the law should be applied to these facts.
I mean, you're never going to get them all right anyway.
And yes, of course, there're some really frustrating moments too where you feel you're unjustly criticized or unjustly reversed.
I know folks you had your, you know, paper in there on that.
But, you know, I think as girls we so want to be liked.
That's a very important part of our psyche and it is very hard to not,
you know, be upset if you feel that you're not popular at the moment or that, you know, you're unpopular in fact.
And, you know, I think the things that get people's -- I mean there're two things at work here.
There's one when lawyers really don’t respect what you have done, which is very different I think than just quote "general public."
With general public you can do so much -- I mean you can learn to deliver your decisions
in a way that you hope more audiences will understand what you're saying or at least see the other side or not be so -- but you cannot spend your whole life trying to make sure that everybody
understands why you did what you did.
Because you would never be able to move on to the next case.
And I think you just really have to have a thick skin.
And I actually think you learn some of that in the Public Defender Agency.
And you probably noticed this just looking at Alaska’s judges, but how many quite successful judges were public defenders at one point or another.
And some of that is not getting so bent out of shape when you're either temporarily unpopular or permanently.
I do feel -- and I didn’t say this with the public there's also this whole thing about, you know, the criminal arena that's,
you know, again it's wildly emotional and people have very fixed opinions.
And so like if you do something like suppress evidence in a murder case, even if in your mind you're saying any first year law student would understand why this evidence was suppressed
and had been taught that this was the right decision.
That doesn’t make it easier on the community. And
that's also part of the job, but I think you could -- I think some judges --
sometimes we get carried away when we think we're doing this great glorious thing of, you know, doing what's fair and we don’t always know the answer.
I mean we have to -- the trial court judges have to follow the law and not invent the law to any degree like the appellate court judges can.
And I use that term invent the law loosely, but -- but, you know,
our job is pretty much to say what box things go in, not to create another box.
If the choices are red, blue and green, we're supposed to say well it's more like red than blue or green so that's where we are going.
Although, you know, occasionally we can -- we actually can justifiably say we need another box here and this is going to, you know, but I guess --
I don’t know. I was never like the most popular girl anyway, so to not be popular temporarily is something I can live with.
I think it's harder when the people in your family --
like if someone in your family says that they're embarrassed by what you've done or they feel even they don’t understand it why did you do that.
I don’t think there has been that -- to me there haven’t been that many.
I think it's more things like that just -- that are completely unpredictable
that blindside you that are part of the job.
And that you could go back over and over and over again, would you have done anything differently?
And I mean I would just give as an example every time the phone rang today we all react that way we do when a phone rings,
you know, I made a choice to just let one, you know, go to the voice mail or whatever.
But you just, you know, we're not here to answer the phone.
The phone is secondary and I know you had one question on there about a bail stipulation that I remember well because I think it was very controversial in the public’s eye, but --
This is the kid who got out and cut off the ankle bracelet.
If you go listen to the record, the DA completely agreed with it.
I expressed skepticism.
I ultimately just signed off and let the DA completely agree with.
You know you do that, you know, a million times a week or a year anyway.
And so it wasn’t like one of those big things that you take home.
Like one of my first really hard decisions where you're making an intellectual judge decision like, you know, you've gone -- you're using your law school training about how to apply the law to the facts,
was a mass DUI case in Anchorage and we had an issue way back and I was in district court then.
About how they had to preserve certain parts of the evidence when they were doing what was then called a breathalyzer test.
And, you know, there are like about 80 cases consolidated and so if you said that they hadn’t done it right, then you'd be throwing out 80 DUI cases.
This was before we even had felony DUI, but, you know.
But that decision was upheld by the Supreme Court even though a lot of people didn’t, you know, initially feel like you're throwing out evidence for people that are obviously guilty.
It's just a drop in the bucket, you know, when you look back at it.
But I -- I mean I’ll just never forget even the process of deciding it, because I hadn’t decided that many things like that.
And I actually was afraid to decide it the way I thought I should decide it
because I knew it would be unpopular and you'd be particularly unpopular with the Anchorage police.
And, of course, we have our preemptory challenge rules and, you know, the prosecutors can preempt you or whatever. And
I had actually written up the decision to not throw out the cases or to throw out the tests.
It was up to the prosecutor whether to throw out the cases, you know, whether they had enough evidence beside the breath tests like how they walked the line or said their alphabet or whatever.
And I was reading a draft, and again it was another one of these, you know, sometime between two a.m. and five a.m. things,
but reading that and -- you probably heard this phrase in law school because I must have heard it, but it came back to me then about writing tests decision making.
So if you actually sit down and write out the decision -- you think you got to decided it, but then when you write it out sometimes you -- I can’t -- that next paragraph doesn’t follow from this paragraph.
That -- that -- that, you know, and you really -- it's testing your decision making.
And I thought I have to decide this the other way.
I mean every -- all the steps leading up to here the next conclusion is this, not that.
And changing the decision and doing it and it was controversial, but,
you know, I think it was -- to me that's the right judicial -- your inner conscience as a judge should require you to do that.
And hopefully it's -- you're not thinking oh well if I do that, I wonder if I'll ever get appointed to Palmer.
I don’t know if Palmer was on the horizon then. I do not remember
thinking, oh, if I do that, that might spoil my chances of getting the Palmer job.
But those are real dilemmas for judges when you, you know, have that kind of concern.
And I think today the way the politics of getting appointed to the federal benches and stuff, you know.
And I did apply to the federal district court twice and made the short list twice.
And felt very proud of that, and really felt that I had really good interviews actually for the job, although, of course, they picked white males anyway.
But, you know, now I think if I really wanted to be a federal judge, I would --
I'm older now, I would see more how those things could keep you from getting there and it might even be more of a dilemma than it was when I was younger and more --
I mean you hope you're always willing to do the right thing, but I think particularly when you're younger, it's easy -- your --
your ethics are very naïve in the sense that you say well no I’m just going to do the right thing and it'll have to work out, you know, but that --
MARGARET RUSSELL: What about sentencing criminal defendants?
Did you have -- could you let that roll off your back like the analytical decisions that you had to make or is there --
BEVERLY CUTLER: You know -- MARGARET RUSSELL: -- an emotional element there?
BEVERLY CUTLER: You know with rare exceptions, and I think it's okay to say these things here too.
For the most part the sentencing of criminal defendants has not been bothersome to me.
And I know I might sound like a very unfeeling person. I hope not, but
for the most part it's like, you know, you didn’t do the crime, you didn’t, you know, it's not --
I think I've had -- and really even with the termination of parental rights cases or the custody cases where you know you're just --
you know that mother isn’t going to sleep for a week because it's just such a traumatic thing to --
And you know she wanted her children, but she just hasn’t been able to get past whatever point it was that was even barely functional.
But somehow with rare exceptions most of the criminal defendants --
Until, I want to say, some of our sentencing law changes in the, you know, past five to ten years of this crazy law and order.
I mean even crazier than we had in the past, and we're off the map on certain sexual abuse and certain assault charges.
I mean we're so far off the map and the whole --
and I don’t have any problem saying this on record, but the whole juvenile waiver thing and --
Do I need to explain that? KAREN BREWSTER: Yes.
BEVERLY CUTLER: It just -- I'm just -- sometimes I almost want to see purple because it's so unreasonable, but basically
after what were known as the Walatka murders in Anchorage
where like all these adults were acquitted and only maybe a juvenile was convicted.
No, but three people died, but nobody was convicted and there were juveniles involved.
The legislature changed the juvenile waiver laws so for all Class A and unclassified felonies
if you are 16 or 17, you're automatically tried and sentenced as an adult. Period.
No discretion on the part of the judge that, you know, you're just a 16 year old kid and we can treat you in the juvenile system.
The minimum sentence for the First Degree Felony Assault is -- I believe now it's seven years.
I think it's a seven to eleven thing. So,
you know, we are -- could it be eleven? I think it's seven.
The notion that something, you know, that there's no out to giving a kid who did an impetuous thing in a set of circumstances that were,
you know, again very unforeseen, like the getting up to answer the phone type of thing that I'm saying. You know, you're not even
imagining getting involved in something and you get and, you know, the kind of thing that the juvenile system in my mind is really designed to work with.
We cannot work with them and especially if you take all the, you know, modern research about the adolescent brain and all that stuff,
but, you know, our 16 year olds today are not necessarily more mature than the 16 year olds in King Arthur’s day.
I think the 16 year olds in King Arthur’s day that were out there swinging swords had been, you know,
men since they were 14 maybe in the sense of that's how their culture treated them.
So some of those things I just still have a very, very hard time with, but --
In answer to the question, you know, I think there're a few sexual abuse crimes where I think we're just so far off the map that a true
pious penitent first offender who -- I mean he really did a very bad thing, but I'm not sure the answer is 25 to 45 years with nothing below the 25.
I mean in the old days it would have been -- I mean we even thought eight years.
I mean a rapist used to get eight years for a first offense,
you know, and now they're getting 25.
And I'm not saying, you know, rape isn’t bad, but if it's date rape,
you know, people share a line of cocaine and somebody pushes somebody and somebody --
I don’t know. I mean you can’t really say, but still with rare exceptions I still feel that, you know, they have done it.
You know it's not that they didn’t do it.
And also unlike maybe some people I think I have a little more -- I think the public is unaware of how many back doors we have to the jail.
We have so many back doors to the jail.
I mean so many of the people now getting sentenced they do the whole thing on an electronic monitoring at home, you know.
So you read in the paper they got 18 months.
They're doing the whole 18 months at home as I am right now, but on a monitor.
So, you know, it's not -- I can’t say we have great treatment and all this stuff in the jail, but we do have some.
We do have a parole system. And anyhow I've never really, with the exception of a few juveniles in recent years, never really --
I've been more bothered about what is the right sentence that will hold up on appeal.
With the right recognition for the murder like the murder that was just in the news for sentencing last week
where the quote combat soldier killed his 19 year old wife and six month baby, you know, that kind of --
when you're doing the case you have a certain view of that.
And that person may seem sympathetic to you or they may seem horrible like the, you know, the Jeremy Morlock,
you know, he's the, you know, that name ringing a bell?
This was in the news many months ago, but he's a boy from Wasilla who did all these horrible
things in the Afghan Unit that killed all the, you know, killed Afghani teenagers and I mean, you know, really horrible, horrible stuff.
So even if you're seeing the bright side, you're still saying -- still you got to have a screw loose or some -- I mean there is just,
you know, you're supposed to know that kind of right from wrong no matter what pressure you're under when you're 24 as opposed to 17, you know.
But those kind of sentences like the one last week I thought, you know, and it was Judge Spaan who did that. I thought --
I just remember what, you know, the public will never really see what you see.
And then you're comparing it in your mind with all the homicide cases you've done over the whole 30 years you've been on the bench.
And, of course, the law has changed in the 30 years.
So somebody who got 65 years in 1984
might not be the same 65 years that, you know --
But I thought that was interesting and I was wondering if there'd be some backlash.
That's a pretty cheap price for killing your wife and, you know, a young mother and the baby and then the whole thing about the baby --
he didn’t really know the baby was there and the baby was just sort of in the way.
And well, yeah, how many times have we heard that story, you know.
But you just don’t know, you know, you're not there.
And so I just thought boy, Judge -- and Judge Spaan has done some other homicide cases and he's been a prosecutor in federal court.
But that had to be -- that kind of a big deal sentenced him where you wrestle in your mind with what you think is right,
what the law requires, knowing that on all sides there's going to be reaction that it's either too much time or not enough time.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I was thinking that, well, out here when you were a judge -- you saw all kinds of cases, criminal, civil, jury, non-jury.
Did you have a particular type of case that was your favorite?
BEVERLY CUTLER: Well, you know, there's just such a wide variety.
I think that -- I mean you would never say your favorite case was a criminal case, because crime is by and large awful, you know.
I think most trial court judges sometimes remember good trial experiences where lawyers were particularly well prepared,
or particularly crafty, or whatever, because it's just like watching good ballet.
I mean, you know, and it's our field and so you really admire a very well-prepared and well-presented case.
And it's a pleasure working with people if you can, you know, and their --
if you have a trial that lasts any number of days or weeks and, you know, people are pretty professional,
than all of us feel like, you know, it's a nice professional experience.
But that's really getting carried away from the, wait a minute, it's these people's $800,000 that we're talking about or eight million or,
you know, whatever it is that's at stake.
You know, the only really the only happy cases are the adoption cases.
And those aren’t even happy if you think about the termination of parental rights that occurred before them sometimes.
And in fact, this is another interesting judge visibility question or dilemma that I have wrestled with a little bit in recent years and again we're all different, but
we had been asked in some of the courts - and this must be a sweeping the nation move -
to have judges come to parties for adoption day.
So that when like eight different kids or eight different families are adopting kids who've been taken away from mothers,
we have this party with cake and cupcakes and make little speeches and aren’t the parents doing a wonderful thing.
And that the judge should come to the party and shake hands with everybody.
And they want to have the party from four to five and have the judge agree to clear his calendar and do the adoptions at, you know, half hour intervals all afternoon and have everybody there.
And I personally declined to do it because I said, you know, everyone of those adoptions is like to me -- going to the party it is like celebrating that mother’s termination.
I'm not going to do that to that mother.
I mean it was, you know, you get used to terminating parental rights, but I don’t need to add to her wounds by going to some party celebrating that somebody else now has her kid or his kid if it's a father.
And some people they just don't see it. Oh, but this is so important to the parents and it's so good and the judge needs to be visible.
And I'm like, you know, have your party, but have it without me.
But some of our judges go, and they see nothing -- and I'm not saying there is anything wrong.
I think it's a matter of how you feel.
And certainly in a smaller community, four of those eight kids you know what parents those came from.
Maybe in Anchorage maybe they're not really anyone.
I don’t know the parents personally, but I remember we did the case or that the mom is now doing 12 years in,
you know, prison for a horrible heroin addiction that, you know, she's a violator or probation six times and I just --
one of the kids from one of these type of cases is living right down the road from me.
Wonderful family. I have no concern about it at all, but
the, you know, I just -- it's so close to home I don’t think I’ll ever be in a position where
his mother will realize that that child that was taken away from her is living down the road from me,
but if she was, I can see how she could even think I had something to do with picking out the family that got to adopt him, which I had nothing to do with.
But, you know, I just think you have to be aware of people's feelings
more sometimes than we are when we are just doing our job and we forget how people feel.
And I guess I've digressed from that thing about going to the adoption party, but I really did --
This is a very, very new thing and I'm probably in a minority of judges that have thought, "I don't think we need to go to the party."
Anymore than after the police -- police out here in Palmer, I couldn’t believe this.
They, you know, we do search warrants for them to search people’s houses for drugs all the time.
And the magistrate and I both got invited to this thing they had called the "After the Bust Party."
And we're going like, what? I mean and I just think they --
KAREN BREWSTER: A being hard on crime type thing?
BEVERLY CUTLER: No this -- a couple of the police officers involved who were not very well trained.
They weren’t troopers.
They were local police, just totally forgot there's supposed to be a boundary for us.
Just because we sign the search warrants doesn’t mean -- I mean we're supposed to be completely neutral.
We don’t care if these -- and you know we just like can you believe that they're inviting us to their after the bust party.
It's almost like it was an April fool’s joke or something, you know. Which needless to say we didn’t go to.