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Former Alaska Supreme Court Justice Boochever dead at 94

  • Author: Mike Dunham
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published October 11, 2011

Retired federal appeals judge and former Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Boochever has died at the age of 94. He was the first Alaskan jurist to serve on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles cases from Alaska.

A spokesman for the court said Boochever died in his Pasadena home Sunday of natural causes.

Boochever was born in New York City, Oct. 2, 1917, to Louis and Miriam Boochever. His father was the director of public information for Cornell University for many years and, later, for the American Red Cross. He had one brother, also named Louis, who worked for the U.S. State Department.

He attended Cornell, where he was a member of the football and tennis teams. He earned his law degree in 1941 and joined the Army. He spent most of his tour of duty in Newfoundland, serving as a legal assistance officer, trial judge advocate and defense attorney at various times. He held the rank of captain when he was discharged in 1945.

In January 1946 he moved to Juneau as an assistant U.S. attorney and, the following year, joined the law firm of Falkner & Banfield, becoming a partner in 1948. In that job, he handled several cases before the Alaska State Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit. He was elected president of the Alaska Bar Association in 1962.

Upon the retirement of John Dimond from the Alaska Supreme Court in 1972, Gov. William Egan appointed Boochever to fill "the Juneau seat." In 1975 he was chosen to become the fourth Chief Justice of the state, succeeding Jay Rabinowitz.

He was part of the unanimous 1975 court decision legalizing private use of marijuana in Alaska, Ravin v. State. In a concurring opinion he wrote:

"[The] citizens of Alaska, with their strong emphasis on individual liberty, enacted an amendment to the Alaska Constitution expressly providing for a right to privacy not found in the United States Constitution ... It includes not only activities within the home and values associated with the home, but also the right to be left alone and to do as one pleases as long as the activity does not infringe on the rights of others. Thus, the decision whether to ingest food, beverages or other substances comes within the purview of that right to privacy."

The Juneau Empire said Boochever was instrumental in defeating a plan to move Alaska's capital from Juneau in the early 1960s. But speaking before the Anchorage Bar Association in 1977, he said the five justices of the Supreme Court, then scattered in offices around Alaska, should move to Willow if the capital were to be built there.

Disturbed by the disparity in sentences handed out for similar crimes, he advocated for presumptive sentencing and supported the ban on plea bargaining imposed by Gov. Jay Hammond's attorney general, Avrum Gross. He expressed concern with the explosive growth in case loads that took place during his term on the Alaska Supreme Court, feeling that justice was becoming out of reach for the average person.

"The poor in Alaska are furnished free legal services, and members of certain groups have prepaid legal services," he said in remarks to the Washington Judicial Conference in 1977. "Large corporations and businesses are able to afford litigation, but the person of average means has little chance to compete in this costly arena, it is becoming nearly impossible for people of average means to utilize our court system for resolution of many types of disputes."

When President Jimmy Carter nominated him to serve as one of the 30 judges on the 9th Circuit in 1980, Sen. Edward Kennedy, then running against Carter, suspended his campaign to preside at the Senate hearings. Some opposition to Boochever's candidacy was expressed by Sen. Robert Dole, who felt there had been insufficient time to question him. But Alaska jurists and politicians -- including Hammond, Gross and Sen. Ted Stevens -- lauded his abilities and Dole withdrew his objections.

At the beginning of his service on the 9th Circuit, which is based in San Francisco, he attempted to maintain his residence in Juneau but soon discovered the travel was too much of a trial for him and he moved to Pasadena.

Boochever semi-retired in 1986 and began hearing a reduced case load. Boochever didn't hear any cases in recent years.

As a federal judge, his most notable cases include a 2001 opinion he wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel that overturned a $3 million judgment actor Dustin Hoffman won against Los Angeles Magazine. A trial court judge awarded the actor damages after the magazine in 1999 digitally altered a still from the movie "Tootsie" to illustrate a news story about fashion.

During the trial, Hoffman testified he should have been compensated for the use of the well-known image of the actor dressed in a red dress and heels standing in front of an American flag. The magazine altered the still to show Hoffman's face placed on top of a male model wearing a Richard Tyler gown and Ralph Lauren heels.

Boochever wrote the magazine was protected by the First Amendment because the image was used in a news story rather than in an advertisement.

A statement issued Tuesday by the 9th Circuit said Boochever was found in his favorite easy chair and is thought to have passed peacefully in his sleep. Only a week earlier, on Oct. 2, he celebrated his birthday with a number of family members present.

Boochever's wife, Connie, former chairman of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, died in 1999. His second wife, Rose Marie Borden, died in 2010. He is survived by four children and 11 grandchildren, including skiing champion Hilary Lindh, who won a silver medal in the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France.

Some material in this story was provided by The Associated Press in San Francisco.

By MIKE DUNHAM

Anchorage Daily News

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