Justice’s early work as public defender among career highlights

Justice Walter ‘Bud’ Carpeneti discusses his career and the Alaska Supreme Court during a recent interview. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

Supreme Court Justice Walter Carpeneti says he’s still got a few more things to do. After nearly 43 years in a law-based career, Carpeneti formally retired at the end of January. But, until the end of June, he may still be found at his Dimond Courthouse office wrapping up his work.

Working as an attorney or ascending to a state’s supreme court initially were not among his top choices for a career.

Carpeneti says he aspired to be a diplomat, but he was strongly encouraged to get into law.

My dad, who was a sitting judge in San Francisco at the time, really said I should go to law school. And I remember having huge fights with him. He used to say (that) law is such a great safety net. It’s a great background to have for anything.”

Carpeneti initially considered joint programs for international affairs and law and eventually ended up at University of California at Berkeley Law School. He later faced Alaska Supreme Court Justice Roger Connor in an interview for a job as a clerk for justices.

“I thought it was the worst interview I could have imagined,” said Carpeneti who described a very unpleasant and uncomfortable encounter.

He still got the job. That kicked off Carpeneti’s Alaska legal career as he clerked for Justices John Dimond and Jay Rabinowitz, got married, and worked for Fairbanks attorney Charlie Cole who later became Attorney General. Carpeneti ran a law office with his brother in San Francisco and then was hired as Juneau’s lone public defender. He later worked on appeals with another public defender who later ascended to the Alaska Supreme Court, Dana Fabe, and then entered into a private practice with former Juneau attorney Bill Council before being appointed to the bench.

He served 17-years on the Superior Court bench in Juneau and 14-years on the Alaska Supreme Court.

In this excerpt of a recent wide-ranging interview, Carpeneti was asked about some of his more memorable cases as a criminal trial attorney.

Carpeneti believes that working as a trial attorney is one of the more exciting, invigorating, and challenging careers or aspects of working in law.

For a practicing trial attorney, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. I almost never slept on the night before a final argument. I mean, I’d just get two or three hours sleep because it can be just so dramatic. Everything comes to a point right there. Not that the prosecutor doesn’t have a lot of responsibility. But if a prosecutor loses, his client is not going to jail and, maybe, for the rest of his life. And if you get a wrongful conviction, that’s pretty tough to live with. I think the stakes for a defense lawyer can be emotionally very, very high.”

We’ll have more excerpts of our interview with Carpeneti throughout the summer on the Alaska Supreme Court process, how justices draft an opinion, and what it is like working as judge in a very young state without very much established law. Carpeneti will also recall a sabbatical that he took several years ago in which he observed the Italian judicial system.

Meanwhile, as part of the Alaska Bar Association’s annual meeting in Juneau this week, a retirement party for Justice Carpeneti was scheduled for the Juneau Arts and Culture Center on Wednesday night at 6 p.m.

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