Comments in an old legal brief prevented a local defense attorney from becoming the state’s newest Juneau Superior Court judge, according to a statement from Gov. Bill Walker’s Chief of Staff Scott Kendall.
Walker initially chose defense attorney Julie Willoughby to fill the vacancy, according to Kendall, but after seeing what Kendall called “disturbing” comments in a previous legal brief, the governor rescinded his offer. The position will instead go to Juneau’s Municipal Attorney Amy Mead, according to a press release from Gov. Bill Walker’s office Monday.
Walker called Willoughby, Kendall said, to inform her of his decision to select her. Shortly afterward, an unnamed staff member showed Walker a legal brief that Willoughby had filed a few years ago, Kendall said in his statement. Walker’s Press Secretary Austin Baird said the case was that of Ty Alexander Grussendorf, the son of a legislative staffer who faced charges of sexual abuse of a minor and attempted sexual abuse of a minor in addition to charges of child pornography possession.
In the brief, Kendall said, Willoughby argued that sexual assaults perpetrated against a 12-year-old girl by an adult man were a “mutually satisfying sexual adventure” and that the child had not been harmed. Willoughby went on in the brief to write that the victim had “solicited” the sexual assaults and that it’s a “legal fiction” that a 12-year-old cannot consent to sex with an adult, according to Kendall’s statement.
“Each of these statements is disturbing individually,” Kendall said in the statement provided to the Empire. “Collectively, these arguments shocked the conscience of Governor Walker and his advisors. The governor understands that criminal defense attorneys must be zealous advocates. In fact, he has previously appointed defense attorneys to judgeships, including to the Alaska Supreme Court. However, an attorney can be zealous without attacking a child victim and misstating statutory rape laws.”
Two hours after his initial call, Walker called Willoughby back to inform her that he was going to select another candidate, Kendall said.
Willoughby did not respond to a phone call from the Empire for comment. Mead declined to comment as well, saying she was not involved in any discussion about whether the position had been offered to Willoughby first.
Grussendorf’s case gained a great deal of attention because Grussendorf, now 23, is the son of a legislative staffer, Tim Grussendorf, who was investigated for potentially unethical attempts to lobby for amendments to sex crime provisions in Senate Bill 91. According to previous Empire reports, Tim Grussendorf unsuccessfully attempted to change the age of offenders from 16 or older to 19 or older, with the victim age being lowered to younger than 12 instead of 13. He worked for Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, and the Senate Finance Committee.
According to electronic court records, Ty Grussendorf is slated to stand trial in the case on Oct. 22. Willoughby is no longer representing Grussendorf, according to electronic court records, as Anchorage attorney John P. Cashion has taken the case.
Mead said she got a phone call Saturday morning from the governor’s office informing her that she was Walker’s selection.
“As you can imagine, it was a very exciting call for me,” Mead said. “I was very honored.”
Mead, who began her career as a law clerk in Ketchikan and has been the CBJ municipal attorney since 2013, said she isn’t sure how much longer she’ll be with the city or when she will start. She said the news is very new and the courts system has not contacted her yet about a start date. Menendez’s retirement was effective as of this past Friday, June 29.
The Alaska Judicial Council selected Mead and Willoughby in May as finalists from a pool of seven applicants (10 people initially applied but three withdrew their applications). The council goes through a months-long process to select finalists, including sending out a survey to members of the Alaska Bar Association that asks colleagues to rate applicants on five factors: professional competence, integrity, fairness, judicial temperament and suitability of experience.
Willoughby had the highest overall mean rating on the survey, which is available on the Alaska Judicial Council’s website. She had a 4.3 rating (out of a possible 5), while Mead had the fourth-highest rating (3.7) of the seven applicants.
Walker’s office also announced the appointments of Thomas Temple to the Fairbanks Superior Court and Lance Joanis to the Kenai Superior Court.
“I’m confident Thomas, Amy and Lance are highly qualified to serve as Superior Court judges,” Walker said in the release. “I know they will bring the integrity, honesty and fairness that has defined their careers so far to their new roles. Alaska is lucky to have them, and I am grateful for their willingness to serve.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.