ANCHORAGE -

The Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct has recommended a 45-day suspension without pay for a District Court judge in Palmer who improperly signed pay affidavits for cases he was behind on.

In a recommendation released Wednesday, the commission says Judge William Estelle admitted on March 29, 2013 that he had signed affidavits claiming that no cases before him had been outstanding for more than six months. Estelle only made that admission, however, the day after the commission began investigating a report from a litigant in a delayed case -- leading to the discovery that he had taken eight days longer than a six-month deadline to decide it and two other cases.

While Estelle said he had somehow forgotten the “six-month rule” requiring judges to decide cases before them within that time limit, commission staff dismissed that claim, noting that every other witness in the case was aware of its existence.

“The Commission cannot find by clear and convincing evidence that Judge Estelle knew that the affidavits were inaccurate at the time he signed them,” commission staff wrote. “The Commission does find that he did not act intentionally. Judge Estelle admits, and the Commission finds, that he acted negligently with respect to the delay in deciding cases.”

In separate proceedings, Estelle was fined by the Alaska Public Offices Commission in 2004 and 2014 for failing to make timely submissions of APOC reports. The commission noted those actions, but qualified its opinion by noting that Estelle was “remorseful” over his actions and had taken steps to prevent repeat occurrences, such as emailing himself automated reminders of cases approaching the six-month deadline.

“Judge Estelle has excellent character and an excellent reputation in certain respects,” commission staff wrote. “He is precise and thorough in his work and has a good legal mind, but he does not have a good reputation as an administrator.”

Despite finding that the eight-day delay in deciding the three cases didn’t harm the parties involved, the commission says Estelle’s actions caused “actual injury” to the public perception of Alaska’s judicial branch, as well as offering possible harm from delays in his future cases.

“(W)hen a decision is delayed unreasonably, there is always potential injury to the litigants,” commission officials wrote. “If a litigant had not raised the delay issue with the Commission and with Judge Estelle, it is likely that his conduct would have continued indefinitely, with the potential for further injury.”

The commission’s recommendations for disciplining Estelle will be taken up by the Alaska Supreme Court.