Chief Justice Daniel E. Winfree, right, is sword in by Justice Dario Borghesan in Anchorage on July 1, 2021. Winfree will take over after former Chief Justice Joel Bolger retired earlier this year. (Courtesy photo/Alaska Court System)

Chief Justice Daniel E. Winfree, right, is sword in by Justice Dario Borghesan in Anchorage on July 1, 2021. Winfree will take over after former Chief Justice Joel Bolger retired earlier this year. (Courtesy photo/Alaska Court System)

State Supreme Court has new Chief Justice

Governor announces appointment to high court.

The Alaska Supreme court selected a new chief justice earlier this month, following the retirement of former Chief Justice Joel Bolger.

Chief Justice Daniel E. Winfree of Fairbanks was sworn in on July 1, by Justice Dario Borghesan, the Alaska Court System said in a news release. Winfree is the first chief justice to be born in Alaska, according to the court system, and the second chief justice from Fairbanks.

The chief justice serves a three-year term as the administrative head of the judicial branch of government, presides over Alaska Supreme Court arguments and conferences, appoints presiding judges for all judicial districts and serves as the chair of the Alaska Judicial Council. Under Alaska’s Constitution, the chief justice is selected from among the justices by majority vote.

Born in 1953 the Alaska Territory in Fairbanks, Winfree is the grandson of turn-of-the-century Yukon and Alaska gold rushers, according to the court system. From 1975 to 1978 he was a truck driver and warehouseman in pipeline construction camps and at Prudhoe Bay, working on the trans-Alaska pipeline.

Winfree earned a degree in finance from the University of Oregon in 1977, and in 1981, earned an MBA and JD from the University of California Berkeley.

[Lawmakers announce PFD working group]

He was admitted to the Alaska Bar in 1982, he spent 25 years in private practice in Anchorage, Valdez and Fairbanks, working with large firms, small firms, and as a sole practitioner on matters across the state, the release said.

Winfree served nine years on the Alaska Bar Association Board of Governors and was its President from 1994-1995. He also served a term on the Bar Association’s Ethics Committee and several terms on its Fee Arbitration Committee. The Bar Association presented him its Distinguished Service Award in 2007. After his final term on the Board of Governors, he joined the Board of Trustees of the Alaska Bar Foundation and served as its president for two years. He now chairs the Supreme Court’s Code of Judicial Conduct Rules Committee and Appellate Rules Committee.

Justice Winfree is married to another Fairbanks-born, third-generation Alaskan, Cathleen Ringstad Winfree. They have two children.

Governor announces appointment

Wednesday evening, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced the appointment of Judge Jennifer Stuart Henderson to the high court.

The appointment follows a previous request by Dunleavy for additional nominees and comes ahead of a looming July 11 deadline to appoint someone to the state Supreme Court.

In a July 1 letter, Dunleavy asked the council to provide additional names for selection, specifically naming Judge Paul Roetman as being overlooked by the council.

Dunleavy lauded Roetman’s career, saying he had more time serving as a judge than any individual of the nominated individuals.

“No one path leads to a perfect judge,” Dunleavy wrote in his letter to the council. “The people of Alaska, including myself, wonder how someone like Judge Roetman is qualified to sit where he currently is but not have his name put forward for consideration to the Alaska Supreme Court?”

Under the state Constitution, Alaska’s judges are chosen by the Judicial Council whose members must also be members of the Alaska Bar Association. Speaking to the Empire on July 1, Judicial Council Executive Director Susanne Dipietro said the council’s bylaws don’t allow for additional nominees to be put forward except for in extreme cases such as a sudden death.

Dipietro said the council had a thorough vetting process which was clearly laid out in the state constitution and the council’s bylaws.

“Since statehood, the council has had the procedure of screening candidates on merit,” Dipietro said. “It’s a process that looks at the qualities of all the applicants among a list of extremely accomplished individuals, grounded in the bylaws.”

Henderson has resided in Alaska for 18 years, according to the governor’s office, and has practiced law for 18 years. She graduated from Yale Law School in 2001 and is a superior court judge in Anchorage.

In 2019, Dunleavy appointed a judge after the deadline, and a recall-focused group has cited the failure to make a timely appointment as one of the reasons for removing the governor.

Contact reporter Peter Segall at Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

More in News

Graphic by Ashlyn O'Hara
Borough, school district finalizing $65M bond package

Efforts to fund maintenance and repairs at school district facilities have been years in the making

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Members of the House Majority Coalition spent most of Friday, May 13, 2022, in caucus meetings at the Alaska State Capitol, discussing how to proceed with a large budget bill some have called irresponsible. With a thin majority in the House of Representatives, there’s a possibility the budget could pass.
State budget work stretches into weekend

Sessions have been delayed and canceled since Wednesday

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Alaskans for Better Government members La quen náay Liz Medicine Crow, Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson and ‘Wáahlaal Gidáak Barbara Blake embrace on the floor of the Alaska State Senate following the passage of House Bill 123, a bill to formally recognize the state’s 229 federally recognized tribes.
Tribal recognition bill clears Senate, nears finish line

Senators say recognition of tribes was overdue

The Alaska Division of Forestry’s White Mountain crew responds to a fire burning near Milepost 46.5 of the Sterling Highway on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, near Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Cooper Landing Emergency Services)
Officials encourage residents to firewise homes

The central peninsula has already had its first reported fires of the season

In this September 2017 file photo from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, beluga whales arch their backs through the surface of the water. Of Alaska’s five distinct beluga whale populations, only Cook Inlet’s is listed as endangered. (Courtesy the Alaska Department of Fish and Game)
Celebrate belugas with virtual programming next week

The three-day event will include conferences and activities

Capt. Corey Wheeler, front, commander of B Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, walks away from a Chinook helicopter that landed on the glacier near Denali, April 24, 2016, on the Kahiltna Glacier in Alaska. The U.S. Army helped set up base camp on North America’s tallest mountain. The U.S. Army is poised to revamp its forces in Alaska to better prepare for future cold-weather conflicts, and it is expected to replace the larger, heavily equipped Stryker Brigade there with a more mobile, infantry unit better suited for the frigid fight, according to Army leaders. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)
Army poised to revamp Alaska forces to prep for Arctic fight

The U.S. has long viewed the Arctic as a growing area of competition with Russia and China

A man fishes in the Kenai River on July 16, 2018, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/file)
Emergency orders, fishing conditions updated

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Sport Fish released a Northern Kenai fishing report Friday

My Alaskan Gifts is seen at the Kenai Municipal Airport on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Municipal Airport gets gift shop

Locally sourced Alaska products are the newest addition to the Kenai Municipal… Continue reading

FILE - A sign requiring masks as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus on a store front in Philadelphia, is seen Feb. 16, 2022. Philadelphia is reinstating its indoor mask mandate after reporting a sharp increase in coronavirus infections, Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, the city’s top health official, announced Monday, April 11, 2022. Confirmed COVID-19 cases have risen more than 50% in 10 days, the threshold at which the city’s guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
US marks 1 million COVID-19 deaths; 15 more reported in Alaska

The state Department of Health and Social Services reported 15 more COVID-19… Continue reading

Most Read