Alaska judges on the ballot, explained

This seal of the state of Alaska, pictured here on Jan. 4, 2019, hangs on the wall behind the dais where the Alaska Supreme Court hears cases in the Boney Courthouse in Anchorage.
The seal of the State of Alaska, pictured here on Jan. 4, 2019, hangs on a wall in the Boney Courthouse in Anchorage. (Photo by Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Eight Superior Court and seven District Court judges are on the ballot in Alaska’s 3rd Judicial District, which stretches from the Aleutian Islands, to Anchorage and Cordova.

But the process for judges to get on the ballot is far from self-explanatory.

First, the Alaska Judicial Council oversees the nomination of judges. Then, it sends a list of judges to the governor for appointment. The council re-evaluates judges after their first terms, which last six years for the Superior Court and four years for the District Court.

Then, the council issues recommendations on whether the judges should be retained. It’s left up to the voters to make the ultimate decision on whether each judge should keep their job.

Suzanne DiPietro is the executive director of the judicial council. She said the system is meant to give power back to the people.

“In Alaska, judges serve set terms in office unless the voters give them permission to have an additional term in office,” DiPietro said. “The founders wanted to preserve the independence of the judiciary but also to give the citizens some say so if the judges should continue in office.”

She said the council also considers feedback from thousands of people the judges have worked with before issuing recommendations.

“That includes attorneys, municipal and state police officers and law enforcement, correctional officers, social service professionals — people like social workers, guardians ad litem. The council surveys court employees, the council also surveys jurors,” DiPietro said.

She also pointed out that judges aren’t allowed to run campaigns for their reelection.

“One of the things that I find not a lot of people are aware of is that even though judges’ names appear on the ballot, the judges are prohibited under the Code of Judicial Conduct to campaign unless there’s an active campaign against them,” she said.

The Alaska Judicial Council has unanimously recommended all judges on the Nov. 3 ballot for retention. The council publishes recommendations and information on its website.

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