Crime & Courts

14 applicants vie for Anchorage Superior Court judge position

The Alaska Judicial Council on Tuesday named 14 applicants vying to become an Anchorage Superior Court judge and the list includes some recognizable names, including a former state senator.

Half of the 14 attorneys who applied for the position are women. The Anchorage Superior Court bench currently has one woman among its sitting judges, which has been the case for more than four years.

Whether the makeup of the bench changes is up to Gov. Bill Walker. With two Superior Court bench seats now up for consideration, it's possible two female judges will be appointed to fill those positions.

In addition to the 14 applicants announced Tuesday by the judicial council, the governor is set to appoint one of four nominees who will replace retiring Superior Court Judge Philip Volland. Two of those nominees are women.

The governor's press secretary, Katie Marquette, said Walker has already done interviews with the nominees for Volland's judicial seat and will announce his appointment soon.

The other 14 applicants announced this week will compete to replace Superior Court Judge Michael Spaan, who is retiring at the end of November, said Alaska Judicial Council Executive Director Susanne DiPietro.

Among those applicants, there are seven women who have practiced law for 14 to 29 years, according to the judicial council. They include Anchorage Magistrate Judge Sidney Kay Billingslea and several public defenders, among other candidates.

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The men who applied for the job, including Anchorage attorney Kevin T. Fitzgerald and former state Sen. Hollis French, have 12 to 27 years of experience. French was also briefly a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor on the ticket in 2014 with current Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, before Mallott and Walker, an independent, joined forces as the "unity ticket."

The council's seven members -- the state's chief justice, three attorneys and three non-attorneys -- will evaluate all the applicants.

"Comprehensive background investigations, a survey of Alaska Bar members, and personal interviews with the applicants are all part of the evaluations" for nomination, according to DiPietro.

Interviews with the applicants are held in Anchorage, and the judicial council will select two or more nominees to send to the governor, who then has 45 days to make his appointment.

The number of female applicants to the position reflects, in part, changing demographics for attorneys and other judicial applicants in the state.

The percentage of women who are members of the Alaska Bar increased from 25 percent to 38 percent from 1989 to 2013, according to the latest data available in a Judicial Council report.

Alongside that increase, from 1984 to 2012 the number of female applicants for judicial seats statewide jumped from 15 to 32 percent, according to the report. And an increasing percentage of applicants for district and superior courts were women, it says.

The judicial council has nominated men and women to district and superior courts at the same rate. Nominations are based on qualifications, not gender, DiPietro said.

The council's report says due to the increase in female lawyers and the even nomination rate, Alaska's governors "have had increasingly more female nominees to consider for appointment."

Still, the number of female appointees has varied over the last three decades.

Superior Court Judge Catherine Easter was appointed in 2012; she was the first woman appointed to an Anchorage Superior Court seat since Gov. Tony Knowles appointed Morgan Christen in 2001.

Jerzy Shedlock

Jerzy Shedlock is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News. He left the ADN in 2017.

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