Legal legend still serving courts at 82

Judge Robert Boochever known for career in courts and family of athletes

Posted: Friday, July 21, 2000

More than 50 years ago Robert Boochever came to Juneau to serve the people of Alaska, and today at age 82, he's still going strong. He represents Alaska on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the second highest court in the nation.

``It gives me something to do,'' he said modestly in his office on the top floor of the Federal Building. ``I enjoy keeping active.''

Active is the single word that best describes Boochever, a veritable legend in the Juneau law community. A former state Supreme Court justice, his decisions have been cited by courts across the nation. As an athlete, he is the patriarch of a family of athletes, including his granddaughter, ski racer Hilary Lindh.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is based in Pasadena, Calif., and Boochever now spends most of the year in California. He returns to Juneau every summer, to work and spend time with his family and friends.

He flew out of Juneau today to spend the weekend fly fishing at Lake Florence on Admiralty Island with Judge Tom Stewart, another pioneering Alaska judge.

Boochever grew up in Ithaca, N.Y. He attended the law school at Cornell University in Ithaca, graduated in 1941 at the outbreak of World War II, and went straight into the army.

While stationed in Newfoundland, he married Connie Maddox, his wife of more than 50 years.

In 1945 Capt. Boochever was honorably discharged. He headed to Washington, D.C., where a fellow Cornell graduate was serving as an aide to Bob Bartlett, the Alaska territory's delegate to Congress. Bartlett appointed Boochever as assistant U.S. attorney, and he was off to Juneau.

``It was the first time I'd been west of Buffalo,'' he said.

When he arrived in 1946 there were about 7,000 people in Juneau. There were cows where Harborview School now sits and a dairy at the site of Juneau-Douglas High School.

``The road was all dirt out of town. There was nothing up the hill beyond Behrends Avenue -- it was all woods,'' he said.

Over the next 20 years, Boochever served as president of the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce and the Alaska Bar Association, and served on more than a dozen professional, charitable and community boards, including the first Juneau planning commission. One cause he had strong feelings about was that the capital of Alaska belonged in Juneau.

``He was very active with defeating a capital move in the early 1960s,'' said Clark Gruening, a Juneau lawyer and former state legislator.

``I went all over the state in debates on it,'' Boochever said.

He said only 10 of the 50 states have their capital in the largest city, and it's better for a state not to concentrate the power and wealth in one large city.

He spent more than 20 years in private practice. He won countless cases, including one he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court to limit the number of state fishing permits issued. That became the constitutional amendment on limited entry.

When he began serving on the Alaska Supreme Court, Alaska was a young state. There were few state law precedents to depend upon and Boochever and his colleagues on the bench had the opportunity to shape the direction of Alaska law. Boochever served as chief justice from 1975 through 1978.

``We could give cases fresh thought without being bound by earlier decisions,'' he said.

One case that stands out in his mind is ``Aguchak v. Montgomery Ward Co.,'' which involved an Alaska Native from a village who had been brought to Anchorage for trial.

``People should be tried in the area where they live instead of a big city,'' he said.

The case had far-reaching implications, and became a leading textbook case on the meaning of due process. To this day a law school basketball team in Notre Dame's intramural tournament is named the Aguchaks in honor of the decision.

``It was a wonderful case and has been cited by courts across the nation,'' said Sheri Hazeltine, past president of the Juneau Bar Association. ``As a judge now on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals he's written more opinions about due process rights than most other judges.''

He holds a lifetime appointment to the court, and he plans to keep working. With senior status, he has less pressure and about a half case load.

``There's no mandatory retirement age in federal court,'' he said.



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