Lawsuit filed against Gov. Murkowski for rejecting nominees to Superior Court

Governor wants to look at all qualified applicants, according to spokesman

Posted: Friday, September 03, 2004

ANCHORAGE - A lawsuit filed Thursday claims Gov. Frank Murkowski violated the state constitution last month when he rejected all three nominees to fill an Anchorage Superior Court vacancy.

At issue is an Aug. 26 letter Murkowski sent to the Alaska Judicial Council that said, "After careful consideration I have decided to reject the three candidates you have proposed."

The governor gave no explanation in his letter for why he was unhappy with the judicial council's nominees to replace Superior Court Judge John Reese, who is retiring.

The lawsuit, filed in Anchorage, is an attempt to compel Murkowski, R-Alaska, to pick one of the nominees, said attorney Peter Gruenstein, who is representing the Alaska Public Interest Research Group and AKPIRG member Barbara Williams of Chugiak.

Murkowski spokeswoman Becky Hultberg said the governor wants to sit down with council members and talk about how they come up with the names of the most qualified candidates.

"At this point, we are just open to talking to them and express our concern on the way they choose to forward names," Hultberg said. "There is some concern someone is qualified one time and not the most qualified the next time. The governor would like to see all qualified applicants."

Gruenstein said the process by which judges are selected has been spelled out in the Alaska Constitution for 45 years. It states that the governor shall fill Superior Court vacancies within 45 days of receiving nominations from the judicial council. The judicial council is required to nominate two or more people for each vacancy.

The council is comprised of three members chosen by the Alaska Bar Association and three non-attorneys appointed by the governor. The seventh council member is the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

The judicial council on Aug. 10 forwarded three names to the governor: Sidney Billingslea, Jonathon Katcher and Craig Stowers. All three are Anchorage attorneys in private practice.

The governor has until Sept. 26 to make his selection. However, Gruenstein said Murkowski's "unequivocal refusal" of all three nominees is unconstitutional.

"He is not free to ignore the mandates of the state of Alaska Constitution. That's what he's done," Gruenstein said. "Governor Murkowski does not have any choice. He has to appoint one of the three."

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