City Attorney Amy Mead talks about her career on Thursday, August 16, 2018, as she prepares to start her new job on Monday as a Superior Court Judge. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

City Attorney Amy Mead talks about her career on Thursday, August 16, 2018, as she prepares to start her new job on Monday as a Superior Court Judge. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Mead prepares for jump from attorney to judge

Former CBJ attorney takes lessons from working with Assembly to judgeship

When she was 25, Amy Mead was living in Boston, working at the Hard Rock Café and wondering what to do with the rest of her life.

She and her roommate Jackie both worked at the restaurant and had active social lives, making friends with numerous musicians in the area. It was a fun time of her life, Mead recalls, but she wasn’t sure what to do next. She asked her roommate what she thought.

“Why don’t you go be a lawyer?” Jackie suggested. “One, you like to argue with me and two, all of our friends are in bands and they’re going to need an attorney.”

It stuck. More than 25 years later, Mead was clearing out her office at the Sealaska Corporation headquarters building in downtown Juneau, preparing to jump from being the city’s municipal attorney to her new job as a Superior Court judge. Her final day with the City and Borough of Juneau was Friday, and her first day on the bench is Tuesday.

Her decision to go from attorney to judge came with the same suddenness as her decision to go from the Hard Rock Café to being an attorney. Mead, now 51, said she loves being a lawyer and had never really thought about being a judge until recently. She has been the CBJ’s municipal attorney since 2013, and said it’s been a rewarding, intriguing experience.

Positions have been opening up as of late, and Mead said she began to consider what it would be like to sit on the bench.

“I started thinking about that when there started being some openings, and I started thinking about what that job would entail and what I thought I could bring to that position,” Mead said. “I have about 15 years left in me, maybe a little bit more.”

Mead applied when former Juneau District Court Judge Keith Levy announced his retirement in 2016, but did not get the position. Kirsten Swanson earned the position and began in December 2016. This year, Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez and District Court Judge Thomas Nave both retired, leaving two more open positions.

Mead applied for Menendez’s seat, and the Alaska Judicial Council selected her as one of the two finalists, along with local private defense attorney Julie Willoughby. That left the decision up to Gov. Bill Walker. Walker originally picked Willoughby, but pulled that offer after a legal brief came to light that made Walker reconsider.

Walker then called Mead himself to inform her that he had selected her. Mead was shocked when she heard the voice on the other end of the call.

“He said, ‘This is Bill Walker,’ and I said, ‘Who?’ I wasn’t expecting the call and it was very surprising. I was very honored,” Mead said.

The past six weeks have been a bit hectic, Mead said, as she’s worked to tie up loose ends at the city while seeking advice on her future on the bench. She has sat in on court hearings and sat down with retired Fairbanks Judge Niesje J. Steinkruger. Steinkruger has been filling in for hearings in Juneau recently with Menendez and Nave both gone. Mead said she’s learned quite a bit from Steinkruger, but said she’s heard that the best way to prepare for becoming a judge is to just do it.

The ability to make a quick, reasonable decision and defend that decision, Mead said, is a key one for a judge. Fortunately for her, she had to do that over and over in CBJ Assembly meetings.

“I am asked oftentimes in the middle of an Assembly meeting or a department meeting for a quick decision because they need answers in order to do things that make the city run, and it can’t wait,” Mead said. “I have to be able to give my answer and have to be able to explain it in a way that the public who’s listening or is there understands why I’ve given the opinion that I have.”

A few aspects of her job will change. Her old office window offered a panoramic view of Mount Juneau. Her office at the Dimond Courthouse also looks toward the mountain, but the view isn’t quite as wide-spanning. Mead had a treadmill in her old office, and hooked a separate screen up to her computer so she could work on the treadmill if she wanted. With this promotion, she said, she bought an official treadmill desk.

There will be more serious changes as well, of course.

“I’ve spent almost 22 years now coming at the law in one way, practicing the law in one way,” Mead said, “and I’m about to spend the next 15 years coming at it from a completely different perspective. That challenge, that’s really exciting to me.”

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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