Carney named to replace Fabe on Alaska Supreme Court

ANCHORAGE — The law degree was impressive, but it was what Susan Carney did with it that helped get her a seat on the Alaska Supreme Court.

Carney was graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1987, and could have commanded a seven-figure salary anywhere she wanted to work.

Instead, she came to Alaska to clerk for Alaska Supreme Court Justice Jay Rabinowitz in Fairbanks. She then went to work for the public defender’s agency and then the Office of Public Advocacy.

Many people will get in a few years of experience at such places and move on.

“She didn’t and she stayed,” Gov. Bill Walker said. “I was touched by that, and I was really touched by her rural Alaska experience.”

Walker introduced Carney Thursday at the Alaska Bar Association convention in Anchorage. She will replace Justice Dana Fabe, who retires June 1. When Fabe was with the Public Defender Agency, she hired Carney at the Anchorage office.

Attending the ceremony with Carney were her husband, Pete Graveman, their son Sam, and appearing virtually was their daughter, Rebecca, watching the ceremony from college in Rhode Island via her Dad’s phone. Walker also said he called Carney’s mother, Margaret, in Worcester, Massachusetts, Thursday morning to give her the news.

After the announcement Susan Carney told reporters she was “still stunned and overwhelmed,” adding she was thankful and honored by the appointment.

Carney said she’s certainly not the first female voice on the Alaska Supreme Court. Fabe has served for over two decades, and Judge Morgan Christen was appointed to the court in 2009 and served until President Obama named her to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Carney said she doesn’t know how her conversations with the other four males on Alaska’s highest court will go.

“I think obviously being a woman is different. So is being from Fairbanks. So is being a trial-level public defender, so I think that each of us brings very different skills and contributions to all of the cases.”

Both Walker and Carney said they anticipate her work in rural Alaska and with more than 150 trials will bring other perspectives to the court.

“I think 20 some odd years of doing trials with people all over the state gives me different, real hands-on experience and hopefully a little better understanding of where people are coming from, who don’t live in Anchorage, don’t live in Fairbanks,” she said.

She was among four finalists for the position, as recommended by the Alaska Judicial Council on March 31.

The other finalists were Anchorage Superior Court Judge Andrew Guidi; Anchorage private attorney Jahna Lindemuth, and Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg.

“All the four brought something special to the table, and sort of made it much more challenging to me,” Gov. Walker said.

“I could not have made a bad choice, but I just felt that Susan was the one that I thought would be the best fit for the court,” he said.

He said he called the three who didn’t get the position on Thursday, and encouraged them to apply for future openings.

Carney said she plans to continue living in Fairbanks. “It’s my home,” she said, adding she’ll commute to Anchorage when needed for court business.

Carney said there’s historical precedence for that, with the late Rabinowitz and current high court Judge Daniel Winfree flying to Anchorage as needed.

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