The field of potential replacements for retiring Kenai Superior Court Judge Anna M. Moran was winnowed to two Wednesday.
After an afternoon of public testimony and interviews, the seven-member Alaska Judicial Council chose to forward the names of Kenai Assistant Attorney General Lance Joanis and Valdez District Court Judge Daniel Schally to Gov. Bill Walker for consideration. The governor has 45 days to appoint a replacement to the position.
Joanis has lived and practiced law in Alaska for 13 years and is a graduate of the University of Idaho College of Law.
A graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School, Schally has lived and practiced law in Alaska for 20 years.
Kenai Magistrate Judge Martin C. Fallon, Kenai District Attorney Scot H. Leaders, Assistant Public Defender William W. Taylor, Palmer Magistrate Judge Tara Logsdon and Fairbanks attorneys Gary L. Stapp and Thomas I. Temple also applied for the Kenai position.
Superior Court judges decide on criminal and civil matters in Alaska, and can hear all cases brought before the state courts except cases that go directly to the Supreme Court. The Superior Court also acts as an appellate court for cases that have already been tried in the District Court.
The public speaks out
The decision followed a public hearing, during which the council’s members — Chief Justice Craig Stowers, public member Dave Parker, attorney member James E. Torgerson, public member Lynne Gallant, attorney member Geraldine Simon, public member Loretta Bullard and attorney member Galen Paine — listened to the community advocate passionately for and against the candidates.
Although the floor was open to discussion on all candidates, testimony centered on well-known local figures Leaders and Fallon.
While Fallon received praise from several members of the public, there were few positive words for Leaders. Of the 13 people who spoke at the hearing, nine voiced opposition to the nomination of Leaders to the judiciary. There was no public testimony given in support of his nomination.
Although Stowers urged those testifying to avoid speaking on the specifics of legal cases and focus on the candidates’ character and qualifications, several people criticized Leaders’ handling of a case involving Soldotna resident David Haeg.
A former hunting guide, Haeg has been fighting a years-long legal battle against the State of Alaska to overturn his conviction for illegally shooting wolves from the air outside state-prescribed areas in 2004. Haeg alleged Leaders has prevented him from presenting evidence he said is crucial to the case.
Fallon received praise from three members of the public, and opposition from a fourth.
Kenai Central High School teacher Maria Calvert praised Fallon for his involvement with the schools, citing his willingness to volunteer as school events and act as a guest speaker.
“He has always made the time for me and my students and has always conducted himself in such a professional upstanding and forthcoming manner,” she said. “His ties with our social studies program at Kenai Central is invaluable and a great example of commitment to education and to our youth.”
A non-partisan process
The council took a number of factors into account before making their decision, including a comprehensive background check, personal interviews with the applicants and a survey of the candidates’ colleagues.
The Alaska Bar Association asked its members to review the eight candidates who applied for the judgeship on six characteristics: professional competence, integrity, fairness, judicial temperament, suitability of applicant’s experience for this vacancy and overall rating for the position.
The scale rated applicant from one to five, with one being poor and five being excellent.
Of the candidates who applied for the judgeship, Schally and Joanis received the highest scores from colleagues — 4.4 and 3.9, respectively. Fallon and Leaders received an overall score of 3.7 from colleagues.
Ahead of deliberations, Stowers emphasized the non-partisan nature of the Alaska judicial selection process, noting that during his three-year tenure on the council a discussion of a candidate’s political beliefs has never come up.
“The focus has always been the person’s qualifications and character and their ability to do the job,” he said.
Reach Erin Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.