Vote on Alaska Supreme Court nominees decided with tie-breaker by chief justice

This massive seal of the state of Alaska hangs on April 19, 2018, behind the dais where Alaska Supreme Court justices hear cases in the Boney Courthouse in Anchorage.
The seal of the state of Alaska hangs on April 19, 2018, behind the dais where Alaska Supreme Court justices normally hear cases in the Boney Courthouse in Anchorage. (Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The Alaska Judicial Council’s vote on nominees to fill a seat on the Alaska Supreme Court was closer and more contentious than usual.

On Tuesday, the council voted to forward a list of three candidates to Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who will select one to fill an upcoming vacancy on the state’s highest court. All three are Anchorage Superior Court judges and women, and Dunleavy had passed over all three in a previous selection.

They are Dani Crosby, Jennifer Stuart Henderson and Yvonne Lamoureux, the top three rated candidates out of seven applicants, according to a survey of Alaska attorneys.

The votes prior to finalizing that list involved a tie-breaker by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger, whose seat on the high court is the one going vacant when he retires in June.

“It’s extremely rare for the chief justice to have to vote,” said Susanne DiPietro, the judicial council’s executive director, citing records going back to 1984. “The chief justice has actually been called upon to vote less than 1% of the time in just a handful of situations.”

It’s uncommon because the chief justice only votes if the other six members are deadlocked, and that doesn’t happen often, DiPietro said.

At issue Tuesday was Kotzebue Superior Court Judge Paul Roetman, who had the support of a Dunleavy-appointed judicial council member, Kristie Babcock. Babcok runs a State Farm Insurance agency in Kenai and is married to Tuckerman Babcock, former chair of the Alaska Republican Party and Dunleavy’s former chief of staff.

Roetman, who is Mexican-American, was the only nonwhite candidate, the only one from rural Alaska and scored sixth out of the seven candidates on the survey of Alaska attorneys.

In the council’s vote on Roetman, Babcock and the two other public members of the council voted yes, and the three members of the council selected by the Alaska Bar Association voted no, as did Bolger.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, Babcock then changed her vote in protest against all of the other candidates, saying, “If we cannot move that name forward, then it’s not right to move any names forward.”

The council ultimately selected Crosby, Henderson and Lamoureux. Dunleavy has 45 days to pick one of them.

In 2019, Dunleavy announced a selection for a judgeship that was not one of the Judicial Council’s nominees. He relented after Justice Bolger made a statement pointing out that the move would be unconstitutional.

Alaska Public Media

Alaska Public Media is our partner station in Anchorage. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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