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Dunleavy fills Palmer Superior Court vacancy, resolving overdue appointment

JUNEAU — Gov. Mike Dunleavy has filled a vacancy on the Palmer Superior Court, resolving a situation in which the governor appeared to violate state law.

In a message sent Wednesday night, Dunleavy said he appointed Palmer private-practice attorney Kristen Stohler to the judgeship.

The appointment was about a month overdue. In March, the governor named a slate of judicial picks for various vacancies but declined to pick a judge for the Palmer Superior Court. In a March 20 letter to the nonpartisan Alaska Judicial Council, which is constitutionally charged with vetting nominees to the court system, Dunleavy said he was unhappy with the nominees provided by the council and asked for additional options.

Article IV, Section 5 of the Alaska Constitution states, “The governor shall fill any vacancy in an office of supreme court justice or superior court judge by appointing one of two or more persons nominated by the judicial council.”

In a special meeting of the judicial council held after it received Dunleavy’s letter, members declined to reconsider their list.

Dunleavy sent his letter at the deadline of the governor’s window to make selections. According to state law, the governor has 45 days to pick a nominee from the judicial council’s list to fill a vacancy.

Joel Bolger, chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, met with Dunleavy after the deadline came and went without a selection. Following that meeting, the governor agreed to make an appointment from the council’s list.

According to a biography provided by the governor’s office, Stohler has operated a private practice in Palmer since 2011. She has previously worked as a public defender, guardian ad litem, and parent’s attorney in Child in Need of Aid matters.

She also has worked in therapeutic courts and with the Palmer Early Resolution Project. She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont in 1996, and received a Juris Doctor in 2006 from Vermont Law School, where she graduated cum laude.

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