JUNEAU’S JULIE WILLOUGHBY HAS HER DAY IN COURT — AGAIN
The Alaska Judicial Council this month chose two names for Juneau Superior Court:
Judge Daniel Schally and defense attorney July Willoughby are qualified, the council says, to fill the vacancy on the Juneau Superior Court left by Judge Tom Nave, who has retired.
The council held a public vote on Nov. 5 after interviewing applicants.
Willoughby had earlier this year been offered the position by Gov. Bill Walker, but he withdrew his offer within days, saying a case she had fought for had made her disqualified in his eyes.
Willoughby practices defense law in Juneau. She is a graduate of Stanford Law School. She vigorously defended the case of a Sitka man accused of a sex crime, and she based her argument on the U.S. Constitution.
But Gov. Walker got uncomfortable, once the details of that case were brought to him by his Chief of Staff Scott Kendall.
The defendant was the grandson of a former lawmaker, Ben Grussendorf. It was not a can of worms he wanted to open. There was a 12-year-old girl involved.
This was the same case that had caused Rep. Cathy Munoz to lose her seat in the House of Representatives, simply because she had advocated for a review of sentencing of some offenders.
Walker’s decision to rescind the judgeship was criticized by the Alaska Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. They argued that his decision will make it impossible for defense attorneys to ever be chosen as judges.
Willoughby had received the highest marks from her fellow attorneys during the vetting process earlier this year — a 4.4 out of possible 5 points.
Schally, the other attorney being considered for the judgeship, is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School, has been a resident of Alaska for 21 years and is a district judge in Valdez. He has received a 4.5 score on anonymous grading by participating attorneys in Alaska.
The question now is, will Gov. Bill Walker appoint this judicial position in the winter of his governorship, or leave it to Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy? If he decides to move on this appointment, almost surely he’ll skip over Willoughby once again — to do otherwise would be an admission that he made an error.
According to the Alaska Constitution, the governor must appoint the judgeship within 45 days of the Judicial Council’s recommendation. That 45 days will land in mid-December.
Either Walker could make the call and appoint the judgeship, or he could leave it to his successor, Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy.