Gov. Bill Walker has appointed Sitka public defender Jude Pate as that city’s new Superior Court justice. Pate will replace judge David George, who announced his retirement in August.
Walker’s appointment was one of three announced Tuesday morning by email. In addition to Pate’s selection, Walker picked Michael Logue of Anchorage for an open seat on the Anchorage District Court and named Andrew Peterson of Anchorage to an open seat on Anchorage Superior Court.
“Obviously, it’s an honor to serve,” said Pate when reached by phone Tuesday morning.
He declined further comment, saying he was preparing a brief for the Alaska Supreme Court and didn’t have time to talk.
Pate was one of two finalists for the Sitka vacancy under the merit-based process used by the state. The other finalist was one of Juneau’s top defense attorneys, Julie Willoughby.
Six people originally applied to replace George, but one withdrew his application. That left Lance Joanis of Kenai, Margaret McWilliams of Juneau, Pate, David Roghair of Barrow, and Willoughby.
After a series of interviews, the nonpartisan Alaska Judicial Council voted to name Willoughby and Pate the finalists for the position. Under Alaska’s judicial selection process, the AJC winnows the list of applicants for judicial vacancies and recommends a short list of finalists to the governor, who makes the final decision from that list of finalists.
Unlike the selection process for legislative vacancies, the governor must choose a judge from the AJC’s list of finalists.
A survey conducted by the Alaska Bar Association gave Pate and Willoughby high marks for competence, integrity, fairness, judicial temperament and suitability for the job. Pate scored a 4.6 on the scale that goes from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent). Willoughby received a 4.2 overall; the two had the highest marks of all applicants for the job.
In a prepared statement, Walker thanked those who applied for the vacancies statewide.
“The people of Alaska are privileged to have a great wealth of legal talent in this state, and I am grateful for all the applicants that came forward,” the governor said. “Serving in Alaska’s judicial branch requires deep knowledge of our laws, and great respect for the many different backgrounds and cultures in the Last Frontier. I am confident that Jude, Andrew, and Michael will serve Alaskans well, and make excellent additions to their respective court benches.”
Pate was born in Nuremberg, Germany, to a U.S. Army family, and he grew up in Kansas and Europe. He graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism but went on to Northwestern for his law degree, according to his official biography. He moved to Sitka in 1993 and worked as the legal counsel for the Sitka Tribe of Alaska until 1999, then switched to private practice for seven years. He has been an Assistant Public Defender in Sitka for the past 12 years.
Pate is married and has two children, he wrote, and the family enjoys playing games, fishing, hunting and gardening.
Changes are coming to Juneau’s courthouse as well. Ten people have applied for a vacant Juneau Superior Court seat, and work continues separately in the Alaska Legislature on a project to turn a soon-to-be vacant Juneau District Court judgeship into a third Superior Court seat for the city.
At 1 p.m. Wednesday in room 120 of the Capitol, the House Judiciary Committee will hear public testimony on House Bill 298, a measure that would leave Juneau with one District Court judgeship and three Superior Court judges. The bill was endorsed by Chief Justice Craig Stowers in last week’s State of the Judiciary address and is moving rapidly through the political process.
Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage and chairman of the judiciary committee, told the Empire Tuesday that he expects to move the bill from his committee after public testimony concludes. If that happens, the bill’s next stop is the House floor and a full vote of the House of Representatives. If approved there, the bill would go to one or more Senate committees.
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