Under pressure, chief justice recuses from recall question



After two weeks of pressure, Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger has recused himself from hearing the arguments on the merits of the recall of the governor.

Although Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, whose department is defending the Division of Elections, did not ask for recusal, others had, including the vice chair of the Alaska Republican Party, who penned an op-ed asking for Bolger to recuse.

Earlier, Bolger had refused to do remove himself from the case, and has ruled on decisions leading up to the March 25 oral arguments between the Division of Elections and Recall Dunleavy Committee.

[Read: Refuse to recuse: Justice Bolger was material witness in recall question]

In Alaska, “a judge has as great an obligation not to disqualify himself, when there is no occasion to do so, as he has to [disqualify himself] in the presence of valid reasons,” Bolger wrote.

“In the meantime, the State of Alaska has filed its excerpts of the lower court record. So I now have the opportunity to make a ruling on this potential disqualification with a better understanding of this record. It is clear to me that the issue raised in this case — the adequacy of the grounds for recall of a sitting governor — mandates serious consideration of any potential disqualifying circumstances to maintain the public’s faith and confidence in the justice system.

“As stated previously, I do not have any personal bias or prejudice concerning the parties or attorneys involved in this case,” he wrote.

“However, I have special public responsibilities as the administrative head of the Alaska Court System and as the chairman ex-officio of the Alaska Judicial Council.

“In those capacities, I have made public statements that could suggest a strong disagreement with the governor’s conduct on some very fundamental issues affecting the judicial branch, conduct that forms part of the basis for the recall petition under consideration.

“In other words, this is a case where a reasonable person might question whether my judgment is affected by my overriding public responsibilities to the justice system.

“I therefore RECUSE myself from further proceedings in this case. “

The practical result from his recusal is that a judge from the Superior Court will likely be asked to sit in on this case.

Another justice who has a likely conflict of interest is Justice Daniel Winfree, whose wife is highly paid University of Alaska employee. The university has seen its budget cut by $50 million over this and the previous fiscal year, cuts made by the Dunleavy Administration that could effect the Winfree household’s personal finances.


  1. So if Winfree recuses, that would leave three justices to decide future matters? One of Wally Hickel’s priorities during his first governorship was to expand the Supreme Court because of the perceived lack of credibility of the Nesbett court, details of which aren’t necessary here as those stories are well-told elsewhere. A major factor in that perception was a court with only three justices and the lack of diversity of its opinions. If anything else transpires with this affair, this could be interesting to watch on that basis alone.

  2. As stated previously, I do not have any personal bias or prejudice …”

    It is written in the Bible that our own heart is deceitful, above all things.

    His self-assessment failed to take in account the perceptions of the public … which indicates a lot of bias on his part. He held that his own assessment of himself was more valid than any duty to the perceptions of the public.


  3. Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger said in part “this is a case where a reasonable person might question whether my judgment is affected” while I’m glad the Chief Justice did the right thing it took, unfortunately, far too long to do it.
    Does anyone else remember a couple regular commentators here who the Chief Justice just said weren’t reasonable? I’m guessing they won’t comment on this article.

    • The money quote is “reasonable person might question” that does not say others “weren’t reasonable.” Of course you knew that. Heheh!

      • “This is a done deal unless counsel formally requests of Bolger to recuse” – Bill Yankee
        “If anyone thinks there will be some white-horse riding conservative coming to the rescue here to call Bolger out on a bias, it is my opinion they are mistaken. And that’s because there is no bias to call out.” – Bill Yankee
        “The problem is that you think he should recuse himself based on what (other than your biased opinion)? He is certainly closer to the situation than you or Ann Brown and he doesn’t feel the need.” – Bill Yankee
        “You are referring to an opinion piece from a biased Republican and nothing she has said means a single thing other than in the public opinions of a few low brows on this site (you evidently included).” – Bill Yankee
        “I see you are still hoping for a tooth fairy! Heheh!” – Bill Yankee
        “Bolger has done all he’s required to do by the statutes and if anyone has a bone to pick with him they merely have to speak up within those said statutes.” – Bill Yankee
        “You keep on with things like “do what’s right” but neither Ann nor anybody else can point to where that comes from” – Bill Yankee
        “It’s pretty apparent why counsel has not asked the judge to recuse himself-namely because they don’t have grounds.” -Bill Yankee
        “You don’t like it, tough noogies!” – Bill Yankee
        “the important thing here is that Bolger has recused himself.” – Bill Yankee
        It took you awhile to get there Bill but you finally did it. I’m proud of you. Ultimately the important thing is that Chief Justice Bolger did what is right and recused himself. It takes a big man to admit when he is wrong.

        • He may well have done it for his own reasons but not because you think it was “right” IMO. It may just be as Suzanne says-he was pressured.
          Here are his actual words : “It is clear to me that the issue raised in this case —the adequacy of the grounds for recall of a sitting governor — mandates serious consideration of any potential disqualifying circumstances to maintain the public’s faith and confidence in the justice system,” Bolger wrote Monday.
          Plus some other thoughts on this.

          The Supreme Court is still considering whether it will find a retired justice to replace Bolger in the case, or whether it will be decided by the four remaining justices, Montgomery wrote in an email.

          • Good point Bill, it definitely has nothing to do with his sworn oath to the state or to the bar association.
            American Bar Association Rule 2.11 Disqualification

            (A) A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality* might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to the following circumstances:
            (5) The judge, while a judge or a judicial candidate,* has made a public statement, other than in a court proceeding, judicial decision, or opinion, that commits or appears to commit the judge to reach a particular result or rule in a particular way in the proceeding or controversy.
            (6) The judge:
            (b) served in governmental employment, and in such capacity participated personally and substantially as a lawyer or public official concerning the proceeding, or has publicly expressed in such capacity an opinion concerning the merits of the particular matter in controversy;
            (c) was a material witness concerning the matter; or
            (C) A judge subject to disqualification under this Rule, other than for bias or prejudice under paragraph (A)(1), may disclose on the record the basis of the judge’s disqualification and may ask the parties and their lawyers to consider, outside the presence of the judge and court personnel, whether to waive disqualification. If, following the disclosure, the parties and lawyers agree, without participation by the judge or court personnel, that the judge should not be disqualified, the judge may participate in the proceeding. The agreement shall be incorporated into the record of the proceeding.
            Or Alaska Statute AS 22.30.070 (c) (2) for: ” willful misconduct in the office, willful and persistent failure to perform duties,… conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, or conduct that brings the judicial office into disrepute.
            It was probably like you said “his own reasons”. Seriously Bill? Seriously? No really, seriously?
            You are wrong. No big deal man, you’ve already admitted to it “the important thing here is that Bolger has recused himself.” – Bill Yankee
            I know you don’t like being wrong Bill, but I have it on good authority that if “You don’t like it, tough noogies!” – Bill Yankee

        • Steve-o, next time you see the Doodler please stick a Dunleavy button in his hat and call him…
          Yankee got Spankee.

  4. Nice to read that our Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice, Joel Bolger, eventually ‘recognized’ the importance of appearing unbiased to Alaskans —— at least sometime in the distant future of written Alaskan political history.

  5. Justice Dan Winfree, an honorable man and lifelong Fairbanksan, will recuse himself. He is married to one of the Ringstad girls, whose Alaskan roots are deeply embedded with the Republican Party. Dan will do the right thing, as did Justice

  6. My worry is that instead of bringing in a superior court judge to fill the panel, we will get retired Justice Dana Fabe or retired Justice Walter Carpeneti. If that happens the Guv is Toast. These folks could care less about what the deplorables think.

  7. Message is Bolger recused himself because even he realized that, after trying to dump Dunleavy by politicking with AFN, he’d likely have to recuse himself from any case for or against AFN or Dunleavy, or anyone, or any group, associated with either
    … which could be just about anybody in our happy little community!

    • Sure seems like a person who is the Chief Justice would know that playing politics isn’t part of the job description, judges are supposed to be above such things. And some wonder why there are those of us worried about activist judges and legislating from the bench…

  8. CJ Bolger is an embarrassment, and is a bright illustration of the bias in the judicial branch.

    After daring Dunleavy’s team to request him to recuse himself, he uses this laughable, bullsh*t, “highroad” reason for doing so. He finally realized that he was doing a disservice to the judiciary, and making an — of himself.

    It really is that simple.

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