Gavel (Courtesy photo)

Gov reignites fight over judicial picks

Governor asks for new slate of candidates for state high court.

By Becky Bohrer

Associated Press

Gov. Mike Dunleavy asked the council that screens and nominates judicial applicants Thursday for a new slate of candidates for a state Supreme Court vacancy. He questioned why a judge, who was pushed by his recent council appointee, wasn’t among the finalists.

The finalists advanced last month by the Alaska Judicial Council were Anchorage Superior Court judges Dani Crosby, Jennifer Stuart Henderson and Yvonne Lamoureux. In a release dated May 25, the council said Dunleavy had 45 days to choose from among them.

Under its bylaws, the council “will not reconsider” names submitted to the governor after nominees are submitted “unless the disability, death, withdrawal or unavailability due to appointment to another position of one or more” of them leaves the governor with less than two names.

Jeff Turner, a Dunleavy spokesperson, by email said Dunleavy “is asking the council to forward him the names of all the applicants for the open position on the court.” Dunleavy’s letter requests “a new slate of names to choose from” for the seat.

It’s not clear what happens if an appointment is not made within the 45-day window. Susanne DiPietro, the council’s executive director, by email said in the past, “governors have always ended up making appointments from among the Council’s original nominees.”

She noted Dunleavy in 2019 did appoint a council nominee to a Superior Court judgeship, though after the deadline. Dunleavy at the time had raised questions about the selection process but filled the seat after a meeting with then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger that he said “provided important clarification about process.”

The group seeking to recall Dunleavy listed the failure to make a timely appointment as one of its grounds for seeking a recall election.

Dunleavy told reporters Thursday: “We’ll follow the constitution, and we’ll follow the law.”

Dunleavy, in his letter Thursday, questioned why Kotzebue Superior Court Judge Paul Roetman was “bypassed.” He cited Roetman’s time as a judge and experience in rural Alaska. Roetman was one of seven applicants for the Supreme Court seat that was being vacated by Bolger.

Dunleavy said “over the past several months” he’s “heard a number of concerns regarding the representation of rural Alaska in the Judiciary.”

“The people of Alaska, including myself, wonder how someone like Judge Roetman is qualified to sit where he currently is but not have his name put forward for consideration to the Alaska Supreme Court?” Dunleavy wrote.

Kristie Babcock, a Dunleavy appointee to the council, in an opinion piece in the Anchorage Daily News in May said Bolger killed Roetman’s nomination as a tie-breaking vote on the matter.

She also complained about the selection process.

The council has three public members and three members who are lawyers. The chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court chairs the council and “only votes when necessary,” the council says on its website. It says its selection process is merit-based.

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