It could take a long time to fill Justice Walter Carpeneti’s seat on the Alaska Supreme Court.
That’s why he’s given the state court system six months to find a replacement.
As KTOO reported on Friday, the chief justice is retiring in January. Rosemarie Alexander spoke with him after the announcement.
Justice Carpeneti is giving early notice of retirement because of the lengthy procedure for filling Supreme Court vacancies. Carpeneti knows the process well — before he was appointed to the bench, he was a member of the Alaska Judicial Council, which screens applicants for judgeships.
Alaska judges are selected on merit through an arduous evaluation process. Just the kind, Carpeneti says, that lawyers should go through before giving them the power and authority of a judge.
“All of the lawyers in the state are polled when a person applies for the job, so you’ve got the person’s peers commenting. The application itself is a long document so an applicant needs to set out the last several trials. The Judicial Council goes to the judges in those trials, goes to the opposing council and gets information on how the person performed,” he says.
The Judicial Council analyzes applicants’ writing ability; there are credit checks, ethics checks, and criminal records checks. Carpeneti says public hearings are held and the council interviews at length every one of the candidates.
“The council really looks hard for the kinds of things that you would want in a judge,” Carpeneti says, including temperament, integrity, fairness, legal competence, and prior experience on the bench. When the extensive investigation is complete, the council grades each applicant then selects at least two names to forward to the governor, who makes the appointment.
Carpeneti was first appointed to the state Superior Court in Juneau in 1981 by Gov. Jay Hammond. He served for 17 years, retained three times by voters. Gov. Tony Knowles appointed him to the state Supreme Court in 1998 and he was retained by voters in 2002.
Alaska Supreme Court justices selected Carpeneti as chief justice in June 2009. The chief justice serves a three-year term, and Carpeneti’s ends this month.
The chief justice says he likes aspects of both the Superior and Supreme courts.
“I’m going to defer making a choice as to which I love the best,” he says. “I loved the trial court because it’s closer to the process and because you see and hear the witnesses and you work with the jurors and it’s much more immediate.”
The best thing about the appellate process is being able to work with people in the same job.
“You really learn so much about cases when you hear the different perspectives of other people. It’s sometimes very difficult, the appellate process, because you’re searching for agreement and you’re trying to synthesize different views and find commonality,” he says. “Our court tries not to have a lot of separate opinions and you know you work to find common ground and sometimes that a difficult process but it’s also pretty exhilarating,” he says.
Alaska’s mandatory retirement age for judges is 70. Carpeneti is 66-years-old and says it seems like the right time to retire.
“I kind of look at it from the other perspective. I was appointed in 1998 so I’ve been on the bench for over 30 years. And it just seems like it’s probably the right time now to get some younger folks in with a little more vitality,” he says, laughing.
His last day on the bench will be January 31, 2013.