Judge tosses challenge to Alaska's judicial selection process

Chris Rizo Sep. 14, 2009, 1:47pm

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Legal Newsline)-A federal judge has tossed out a lawsuit that sought to challenge the way Alaska chooses its judges.

The lawsuit -- dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick on Friday -- sought to curb influence that trial lawyers have over the state's judicial selection process.

The lawsuit asked the judge to bar the Alaska Judicial Council from forwarding names to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Alaska Supreme Court.

The Judicial Council is considering applicants to fill the vacancy to be left by state Supreme Court Justice Robert Eastaugh, who announced he will retire from the five-member court Nov. 2.

The lawsuit specifically challenged the state constitution, which says the governing body of the Alaska Bar Association will name three of the seven members of the Alaska Judicial Council.

It is the Judicial Council that forwards names of judicial nominees to the governor, who then must pick an appointee from the list.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Kenneth Kirk, an Anchorage lawyer who has applied for judgeships but has not been nominated by the commission, and two other Alaskans, Michael Miller and Carl Ekstrom.

James Bopp Jr., the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told The Associated Press in an earlier interview that trial lawyers have too much say over who will potentially hear their cases.

"The trial lawyers' bread and butter depends on liberal rulings on personal injury cases," Bopp was quoted by AP as saying. "They have a direct financial interest in who is a judge. And if they are able to elect their fellow trial lawyers to the commission, they've got a really privileged position and ability to line their own pockets."

The seven-member Judicial Council is made up of three attorneys appointed by the Alaska Bar Association Board of Governors, three non-lawyers appointed by the governor and the Alaska Supreme Court chief justice. All were listed as defendants in the case.

More News