Dunleavy won't get boxed in on judge pick for Palmer - Must Read Alaska
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Thursday, October 28, 2021
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Dunleavy won’t get boxed in on judge pick for Palmer

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Gov. Michael Dunleavy filled four judgeships for Alaska Superior and District Courts in Utqiagvik, Kodiak, Anchorage, and Palmer.

But when it came to a second judge for the Palmer Superior Court, Dunleavy took a pass.

The Alaska Judicial Council had only given him three names for two seats in Palmer. Dunleavy thought that odd, since 11 people had applied for the Palmer Superior Court. With just three candidates for two positions, the Judicial Council was appearing to try to force the governor’s hand for this court, and it appeared to violate the spirit of the law.

The council had, after all, offered 8 names for the one Anchorage seat.

“Alaska’s constitutional judicial selection process is supposed to be merit and qualifications based. The list you provided me does not appear to uphold this important standard,” Dunleavy wrote in a letter to the Judicial Council.

“My authority to appoint members to the bench carries with it the obligation to exercise that authority thoughtfully and responsibly. My office has requested more information from the Council on candidates that were not recommended, including the Council’s reasoning for excluding some candidates,” Dunleavy wrote. “I would like an opportunity to review and consider the Council’s reasoning to determine whether additional qualified candidates could be nominated by the Council for this position.”

[Read Dunleavy’s full letter to the Alaska Judicial Council.]

Dunleavy’s judicial appointments are:

John C. Cagle is appointed to the Palmer Superior Court. Cagle has been an Alaska resident for 8½ years and has practiced law for 14 years. He graduated from Gonzaga University School of Law in 2003 and is currently an assistant district attorney in Anchorage.

Nelson Traverso is appointed to the Utqiagvik Superior Court. Traverso has been an Alaska resident for 36 years and has practiced law for 35 years. He graduated from Northeastern University School of Law in 1981 and is currently in private practice in Fairbanks.

Stephen B. Wallace is appointed to Kodiak Superior Court. Wallace has been an Alaska resident for 36 years and has practiced law for 29 ½ years. He graduated from the University of Oregon School of Law in 1988 and is currently the district attorney in Bethel.

David Nesbett is appointed to the Anchorage District Court. Nesbett has been an Alaska resident for 47 years and has practiced law for 20 years. He graduated from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, in 1998, and is currently in private practice in Anchorage. Nesbett is a third-generation Alaskan whose grandfather, Buell Nesbett, was the first Alaska Supreme Court Justice; the state courthouse on 4th Street in Anchorage bears his name.

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Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Alaska Judicial Council is just a cover organization for the ACLU. How judges are appointed needs to change.

  • The interesting question is what happens now? My guess is that the seat goes unfilled for awhile. A court could order the Gov to make a selection which would be argued, consistent with the law. But if Dunleavy rejected that order then there might be a constitutional question. What does the Court do then, hold him in criminal contempt with threat of jail? Who other than the AST would enforce that order. AST is an executive agency, not a judicial agency. This could prove to be very interesting and regrettably a diversion from what faces us moving forward.
    The Council is normally required to submit two names for each slot and will argue that now the Gov has two to pick from. That does not seem right because it submitted only three names for two slots, pretty much tying the Gov’s hands. The Council
    has become very political and sometimes wants a particular person to be appointed and then submits a second person who is clearly inferior to their first choice which once again, ties the Gov’s hands.

  • The Judicial Council submitted 7 names, out of 9 who applied, to the Governor for the sole Anchorage ‘District’ Court position. It submitted only 3 names for two ‘Superior’ Court positions in Palmer out of 11 who
    And more interesting , is that the 3 who were sent to the Governor did not include a candidate who had recently been sent to the previous governor as qualified to serve on the Anchorage Superior Court.
    It looks like the Council has its own agenda and wants to pick the judges instead of the Governor. Something needs to change.

  • Coincidentally, the Alaska Duke Law Review came out today with no less than two articles largely justifying the current Missouri method of selecting judges in Alaska. This method virtually insures that we continue to force the Governor to appoint politically progressive judges, thus, essentially, thwarting the will of the Alaska people who are politically conservative leaning. If the Judicial Council cannot read the tea leaves and submit some names of lawyers who are politically conservative leaning to a duly elected conservative Governor, then the Governor is right to resist appointing lawyers who are not at all reflective of his own views.

  • How are judges selected in other states and is there some analysis as to what that means for the composition of our judiciary?

    My guess is the current system would favor liberals.

  • Didn’t this come up during Palin admin too?

    • A situation somewhat like this little dust up came up when Frank the Bank was Gov.

  • I have mixed feelings on this. This council is about the ONLY functioning part of the Alaska Court System. I have testified before it three times to keep a horrible Magistrate, Martin Fallon off the bench as Superior Court Judge where he could do much more damage and they listened and did not advance him. Two I did testify FOR were recommended and one Gandbhir was appointed and I hope Dunleavy considers McCready for Superior Court judge. After getting caught up in fraudulent cases at 56 with zero criminal history, I took the time to go sit in court to find out who was a good judge. These two are awesome.

    But, I agree with Dunleavy that the bar has to be raised. Alaska has some of the worst judges. Judge Jennifer Wells in Kenai just cost the city of Kenai $35,000.00 over her abuse of a Native woman. She went over six months to decide a motion in my case while signing sworn pay affidavits and collected her pay. Remember Judge Estelle doing it by mistake and getting a 45 day suspension? While former Judge Michael Corey buddy Judge Thomas Matthews sees no wrong in Judge Wells doing that. Luckily, both are up for retention election in 2020 and Alaska has a chance to give Gov Dunleavy two more chances to appoint a good judge to replace each.
    We elected Dunleavy to straighten out Alaska and this should include cleaning out the corrupt good ole boys insider network alive and well in the Alaska Court System.
    Anyone can go and sit in court and find the good ones at a lower position and testify as to who should be appointed and we should. Sometimes no one shows up to testify before the board and we are wasting our voice!

  • Following the Alaska Constitution here would be good administrative technique.

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