Juneau defender Meachum dies

Noted Juneau attorney Robert Meachum has passed away.

Meachum had taken ill in Dillingham just before Christmas and was transported to Anchorage for treatment. He reportedly suffered from a combination of a stroke and a heart attack. His friends say he appeared to be recovering at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage before he died on New Year’s Day. He was 57 years old.

Meachum wrote in an application and a biography submitted to the Alaska Judicial Council that he grew up in Detroit. He started out as a reporter after picking up a bachelor’s degree in political science and journalism at the University of Michigan, but he quickly turned to a career in law. Meachum arrived in Alaska in 1979 as a second year law student, lured by adventure such as hiking in Denali Park. He worked for then-Public Defender Dana Fabe as early as 1981 and worked permanently for the agency in Juneau starting in 1986. Fabe is currently the Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court.

Another early association with a future justice occurred in the summer of 1980 when Meachum, still studying law, clerked for Juneau attorneys Walter Carpeneti and Bill Council. Carpeneti was appointed to the Superior Court in 1981 and was later appointed to the Supreme Court in 1998. Carpeneti plans on retiring this month. His daughter Marianna Carpeneti currently works as an assistant District Attorney in Dillingham where Meachum worked as an assistant Public Defender for the past year.

Meachum defended those charged with misdemeanors and felonies. He also defended those involved in such cases that are frequently listed on any courtroom calendar, but which rarely make headlines. They include juvenile delinquency and child in need of aid (CINA) cases, and involuntary mental health commitments.

A writing sample he provided to the Alaska Judicial Council included a response to a potential appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court of an Indian Child Welfare Act case that involved a mother’s retention of parental rights of her two girls.

Meachum was recognized with the 2006 David B. Snyder award for excellence by public defenders, and he was a nominee to the Superior Court bench for Juneau in 2007.

Quinlen Stiener, head of the Public Defender Agency, wrote in an email that “his passing is a great loss to the legal community in Alaska.” As a Public Defender for thirty years, Stiener said “Rob was widely admired for his commitment to clients and his dignified, approachable manner.”

Meachum is survived by his wife and four children.

Arrangements for services are pending.

(Editor’s note: Story expanded on Jan. 4 with details on Meachum’s illness and his early association with two future Alaska Supreme Court justices.)