Sitka Superior Court judge Jude Pate is in the running to become a member of Alaska’s Supreme Court.

The Alaska Judicial on Monday (7-24-22) announced the names of the seven candidates for the state’s highest court. Pate is the only candidate from Southeast Alaska for the five-member panel, which currently has no members from this region. He was appointed by Gov. Bill Walker to the bench in 2018, after serving years as a public defender.

Among the other seven candidates is Dani Crosby, a superior court judge in Anchorage. Crosby moved to Sitka in middle school, graduated from high school here, but has spent her legal career as an attorney and judge in Southcentral. She was one of three finalists for an appointment to the high court last year.

Although the governor makes the final selection to the court, the Alaska Judicial Council itself is non-partisan. After a series of surveys, interviews and public hearings, the Council will meet in mid-November to pick a list of finalists eligible for the position.

As reported in the Alaska Beacon, in addition to the judges Pate and Crosby, the pool of seven candidates includes Kotzebue Superior Court Judge Paul Roetman, who has applied for Supreme Court vacancies in 2016, 2020 and 2021.

State attorneys Margaret Paton-Walsh and Kate Demarest, are also among the seven applicants for the high court. Both are considered to be among the top litigation attorneys at the Alaska Department of Law. Paton-Walsh has applied twice previously for a supreme court vacancy. Demarest was a finalist to become a judge in the Anchorage Superior Court, but was not selected.

Two of the seven applicants are working in private practice. Aimee Oravec of Fairbanks is the general counsel for Doyon Utilities. Holly Wells of Anchorage is an attorney at Birch Horton Bittner & Cherot and has repeatedly argued cases in front of the Alaska Supreme Court, including the recent cases involving legislative redistricting.

The candidates are seeking to replace Chief Justice Daniel Winfree, who will retire after reaching the state’s constitutionally mandated retirement age. 

All seven will be the subject of a statewide Bar Association survey through August 26, and Alaska attorneys will be asked to rate each candidate’s skills, ability and fairness.

The public can also comment on the candidates via email.

Additional reporting from James Brooks and the Alaska Beacon

Roetman is one of the state’s most experienced Superior Court judges, having been appointed in 2010 by former Gov. Sean Parnell. He unsuccessfully applied for Supreme Court vacancies in 2016, 2020 and 2021.

In 2020, Roetman’s nomination received support from a handful of state legislators and other officials who noted that appointing Roetman, who has Mexican-American heritage, would change the fact that the Supreme Court has no nonwhite members or people from rural Alaska.

That year, members of the public, including former Republican Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, testified in support of Roetman, calling him a “strict constructionist,” a term that’s been used to describe the legal theory employed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority.

The judicial council declined to add him to its shortlist of nominees that year.

After he again failed to make the judicial council’s shortlist of applicants in 2021, Dunleavy asked the council to reconsider — an unusual step barred by the council’s bylaws. The council did not reconsider its action and Dunleavy appointed someone else.