Clark: Laws for naming judges need change

Posted: Sunday, September 05, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Gov. Frank Murkowski's chief of staff says that unless the Alaska Judicial Council changes its bylaws on how it nominates judicial appointees, the state Legislature will be asked to pass a law that overrides them.

Jim Clark told the seven-member board the council should send the governor the names of all qualified candidates, chosen in accordance with a published standard of qualifications.

Murkowski rejected three private attorneys nominated by the council to fill an Anchorage Superior Court vacancy. Murkowski wants a longer list to choose from. Other governors have wanted longer lists, but he is the first to formally reject the council's nominees.

The Alaska Judicial Council, meeting Friday, has no plans to submit additional names to Murkowski, but agreed to meet with the governor to discuss their differences.

"Our principal obligation is to the Alaska Constitution as it's written now," said Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Alex Bryner, chairman of the council.

The state constitution stipulates the council list two or more judicial nominees for a vacancy, from which the governor makes an appointment.

No date has been set for the meeting with Murkowski, but it is supposed to happen before Sept. 26, the governor's deadline for naming the new Anchorage judge.

The council's bylaws specify that the council must choose two or more of the "most qualified" candidates from each pool of applicants. But Clark said the council should send the governor the names of all qualified candidates.

That's not what the people who created Alaska's judicial selection system wanted, said Susan Orlansky, an attorney member from Anchorage and a registered Democrat.

"That would put us more on a level with occupational licensing," said Bob Groseclose, a council member from Fairbanks.

Clark said he has spoken to the chairs of the House and Senate judiciary committees and they have expressed interest in the matter.

Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, head of Senate Judiciary, said Friday that the council's method of making judicial nominations needs scrutiny. Rather than simply examining applicants' credentials, the council seems to be doing a prescreening before sending names to the governor for consideration, he said.

"Do they have political or ideological motives? ... I think it's worth looking at. ... Why shouldn't the governor be allowed to pick from all qualified applicants?" Seekins said.

Rep. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, head of House Judiciary, couldn't be reached for comment.

Bryner said the framers of the constitution "very deliberately gave the powers of judicial nomination to an independent body."

Clark did not ask the council for more nominations for the Anchorage judgeship. And he did not say the governor would refuse to appoint from the current list.

The Alaska Public Interest Research Group filed a lawsuit last week claiming Murkowski's rejection of the nominees is unconstitutional.

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