The Alaska Judicial Council recommended two people — criminal defense attorney Julie Willoughby or Juneau City Attorney Amy Mead — to be the next Juneau Superior Court judge, replacing Judge Louis James Menendez as he retires.
The Judicial Council was sending a clear message it wanted Willoughby.
But politics is funny business. And politics reared its head in the selection of the next Juneau judge.
Here’s what we know: The Judicial Council found Willoughby to be far-and-away the preferred candidate, and she had the highest score in the very intense judicial review process that candidates endure. In some cases, she earned a perfect 5.0 score from respondents.
The Alaska Judicial Council asks Alaska Bar Association members to evaluate applicants on six characteristics: Professional Competence, Integrity, Fairness, Judicial Temperament, Suitability of this Applicant’s Experience for this Vacancy, and Overall Rating for this Position. The rating scale ranged from Poor (1) to Excellent (5).
Willoughby was the highest scoring in all categories, including temperament and experience. She had a 4.3 out of a possible 5, and the only candidate of the seven to get an overall score of higher than 4.0.
Mead, however, was down the list with the fourth-highest rating among candidates — 3.7. That is below applicants Kevin Andrew Higgins and Hanna Sebold, who both scored 3.9.
Gov. Bill Walker initially offered the judgeship to Willoughby. It was clear that the Judicial Council strongly preferred her and was only throwing Mead’s name in their to signal to the governor that Willoughby was their choice.
Then, someone got to the governor. Within 24 hours, he withdrew the offer from Willoughby, and called Mead to tell her she would be the next Superior Court judge.
None of this has been announced by the Governor’s Office, but he has two weeks to make his decision known.
Who got to Walker? Insiders say that Bruce Botelho, a political operative who has strong influence with the governor, got involved.
Botelho was part of forming the hybrid Walker-Mallott ticket back in 2014, was the head of his transition team to form the Walker government. He has been a ghost member of the Walker Cabinet for the entire three and a half years that Walker has been in office and is consulted in every major decision.
Amy Gurton Mead was appointed the City and Borough of Juneau’s Attorney in 2013. She earned a JD from Tulane Law School and a B.A. in psychology from Boston University. She served as a judicial clerk for the Hon. Thomas A. Jahnke, an assistant district attorney in Ketchikan from 1996 to 1998, and as an assistant attorney general in Juneau from 2000 to 2001. She was the City and Borough attorney for Wrangell from 2008 to 2010.
She was in private practice with Robertson, Monagle & Eastaugh (now Hoffman Blasco) from 1998 to 2000 and from 2001 to 2010. In 2010 she joined the City and Borough of Juneau Law Department as an assistant city attorney.
Julie Willoughby is a Stanford Law School graduate, who has a B.S. from University of San Francisco. She is a former Alaska Supreme Court law clerk, Superior Court law clerk, constitutional law professor and former assistant district attorney. Now in private practice, she has many years of experience representing clients in the Alaska criminal justice system both in state and federal courts.