Council advances four finalists for Anchorage judgeship

JUNEAU — The Alaska Judicial Council has advanced four finalists for consideration for an upcoming vacancy on the Anchorage Superior Court.

The nominees are private practice attorneys Dani Crosby and Kevin Fitzgerald; Josie Garton, who is an assistant public defender; and Jonathan Woodman, a senior assistant attorney general.

Gov. Bill Walker will decide which of the nominees will succeed retiring Judge Michael Spaan. Former state Sen. Hollis French had been among the applicants, but the council found him to be ineligible.

The council’s executive director, Susanne DiPietro, said that had to do with a legal requirement that to be a superior court judge, one must have been engaged in the active practice of law for at least five years immediately preceding any appointment to the bench.

Under the law, “active practice of law” includes sitting as a state court judge; representing clients on legal matters; rendering legal services to a government agency, branch or department in an elective, appointive or employed capacity; or teaching at an American Bar Association-accredited law school.

French said Tuesday that he believes the council took a “very narrow view” of what it means to practice law.

The council’s decision was detailed in a recent letter to French, stating, among other things, that legislative activities cannot categorically be considered the active practice of law because non-lawyers often perform duties like chairing legislative Judiciary committees.

The council dismissed the suggestion that the provision related to rendering legal services to a government branch could be construed to include legislative work.

The letter also states that French assumed inactive status with the Alaska Bar Association from 2008 to 2015.

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