Crime & Courts

Alaska Supreme Court chief justice announces retirement

Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger says he plans to retire next year.

In an announcement Monday, Bolger said he would serve until June 2021. The vacancy will allow Gov. Mike Dunleavy to select a second Alaska Supreme Court justice during his term.

Bolger didn’t disclose his reason for retiring early.

The Alaska Constitution mandates that judges retire at age 70. Bolger, at 65, would have hit mandatory retirement in February 2025.

“Chief Justice Bolger notes that he is giving early notice of his retirement because the process for filling a judicial vacancy can take several months, and he wishes to ensure a smooth transition,” the Alaska Court System said in a statement Monday.

Alaska’s five-member Supreme Court will be reshaped by a wave of mandatory retirements in coming years, including Justice Daniel Winfree in February 2023 and Peter Maassen in January 2025.

Last year, Justice Craig Stowers retired early, saying he was leaving because he wanted to avoid what he described as the “great disruption” of mass turnover on the highest court.


In June, former chief assistant attorney general Dario Borghesan was appointed to replace Stowers. At 40, Borghesan has decades to potentially spend on the court.

Judges are selected in Alaska using a system that first relies on the Alaska Judicial Council to select finalists from a group of applicants. The governor then chooses from the top contenders. Dunleavy and other conservatives have been critical of the system.

Bolger first came to Alaska to serve as a VISTA volunteer in Dillingham, according to a biography provided by the Alaska Court System. He spent years working across rural Alaska, including as a public defender in Utqiagvik and in private practice in Kodiak.

He is the first person to have served as a judge at every level of the Alaska judiciary, according to the Court System: first on the Valdez District Court, followed by the Kodiak Superior Court, then the statewide Court of Appeals before being appointed to the Alaska Supreme Court in 2013.

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.