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Alaska Judicial Council picks 4 finalists for Supreme Court vacancy

JUNEAU — A chief assistant attorney general or a female Superior Court judge could be the first Alaska Supreme Court justice appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Superior Court Judges Dani Crosby, Jennifer Stuart Henderson and Yvonne Lamoureux, as well as chief assistant attorney general Dario Borghesan, were named Tuesday to a short list of finalists for an upcoming vacancy on the court. All four are from Anchorage.

The four were nominated in 6-0 unanimous votes by the members of the Alaska Judicial Council, a nonpartisan group charged by the Alaska Constitution to pick nominees for judicial vacancies. Dunleavy has the final pick from among those nominees.

In this Oct. 9, 2019, file photo, Alaska Supreme Court Justice Craig Stowers listens to arguments in a lawsuit in Anchorage. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)

Under state law and the Alaska Constitution, Dunleavy has 45 days to select one of the four to replace Craig Stowers, who said he will retire June 1.

Eight people applied to replace Stowers. The council declined to nominate senior assistant attorney general Kate Demarest, chief assistant attorney general Margaret Paton Walsh, Kotzebue Superior Court Judge Paul Roetman or Palmer Superior Court Judge Jonathan Woodman. All six members of the council voted against their nominations.

Nominees were announced after the council took public testimony, surveyed the state’s licensed lawyers and interviewed the eight applicants.

“The judicial council is very grateful for all the applicants who put their names into their process. The council worked very hard and received input from many, many individuals and has picked four nominees,” said Susanne DiPietro, the council’s executive director.

The Alaska Constitution requires the council’s decisions to be based on merit, not political considerations.

“We’ll be looking forward to see who among the four the governor appoints in the next 45 days,” DiPietro said.

Borghesan is a University of Michigan Law School graduate who arrived in Alaska 11 1/2 years ago. He worked as a clerk for Alaska Supreme Court Justice Daniel Winfree, then in the Department of Law as a special assistant to attorney general Dan Sullivan (now a U.S. senator), then as an assistant attorney general.

Crosby grew up in Sitka, attended college in California and graduated from Gonzaga University’s law school in 1996. She clerked for an Anchorage Superior Court judge, operated her own law firm and worked as president of the Alaska Bar Foundation. She was appointed a Superior Court judge by Gov. Bill Walker in 2015.

Stuart Henderson grew up in San Diego and attended Claremont McKenna College and Yale Law School. She worked as a clerk for former Alaska Supreme Court Justice Warren Matthews, clerked for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, then returned to Alaska to work as an assistant district attorney in Anchorage. She worked in private practice and was appointed to Anchorage District Court by Gov. Sean Parnell in 2012. Gov. Bill Walker appointed her to Anchorage Superior Court in May 2017.

Yvonne Lamoureaux graduated from the University of Virginia law school in 2003 and moved to Anchorage in 2004. She worked as a clerk in federal court and Anchorage Superior Court, in private practice and then as a federal prosecutor. In 2017, she was appointed to the Anchorage Superior Court by Gov. Bill Walker.

Several of the state’s top legislators, including Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, and Rep. John Lincoln, I-Kotzebue, unsuccessfully urged the council to nominate Roetman. In an opinion column, they said Roetman — a Mexican-American from Kotzebue — would provide needed diversity on the state’s highest court.

The column pointed out that the court is entirely white and all of its members are from either Anchorage or Fairbanks.

When attorneys statewide were asked to rate the eight applicants’ performance, Roetman received the lowest aggregate score, a 3.4 on a 5-point scale. Stuart Henderson received the highest score, a 4.4. Except for Demarest (3.7), all other applicants were rated between 4.1 and 4.3.

Alaska’s constitution requires justices to retire at age 70, and three of the court’s five members will reach that benchmark between February 2023 and February 2025. Stowers would have been the fourth, but he said he wanted to retire early in order to spread out that wave of retirements.

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