FAIRBANKS - The percentage of judges who are female in Alaska has slipped in the past decade, even as more women apply for the bench.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported that in 2000, 13 of the state's 55 judges - or nearly 24 percent - were women. Today there are still 13 female judges, but there are 69 judges in the state. The percentage has dropped to just under 19 percent.
"It's a shame for the public," said District Court Judge Jane Kauvar, the only female state judge in Fairbanks. "The public has a right to feel that there is diversity."
A snapshot of the proportion of female judges in Alaska at the beginning of each decade since 1960 shows the proportion of women on the bench statewide is lower now than it was 20 years ago.
1960: zero of 12 judges in Alaska were women.
1970: 3 of 39, or 7.6 percent.
1980: 1 of 49, or 1 percent.
1990: 11 of 56, or 19.6 percent.
A study by the Alaska Judicial Council shows an increasing number of women are applying for judgeships in Alaska. Between 1984 and 1988, 15 percent of all applicants were women. The rate was 28 percent between 2003 and 2007.
Judges in Alaska are appointed by the governor from a short list of qualified candidates, and the rate of women making those short lists is also increasing.
Between 2003 and 2007, almost a third of the people to make the short list for judicial openings were women. But during that same period, only 16 percent of the judicial appointments in Alaska went to women.
Niesje Steinkruger, who retired from the Fairbanks Superior Court in 2007, was the last women appointed to a judgeship in Fairbanks. She now works part-time for the judicial system as a pro tem judge.
"You have to be more than outstanding to get appointed if you're a woman," she said. "Sometimes I feel like it's almost like it was when I first started practicing law almost 35 years ago, which was that to gain a position, women had to be stars. They couldn't be like the average guy."
Mary Greene, a pro tem judge who retired from the Fairbanks Superior Court, said it's up to governors to ensure women are represented on the bench.
"Many of the last several governors have placed a premium on private-practice experience. That leaves out many women, since many women work in the public sector most or much of their careers," she said. "We have had many good judges from the public sector, including (Alaska Supreme Court) Justice Dana Fabe, so I have never been convinced that that criteria is useful."
Juneau Empire ©2013. All Rights Reserved.