The Alaska Judicial Council is a constitutionally created state agency that evaluates the applications of persons seeking judicial appointment and nominates two or more qualified applicants to the governor for appointment to fill existing or impending vacancies. This paper summarizes the judicial selection process - the steps that an applicant must take in order to be considered for a judicial appointment and the steps that are taken by the Judicial Council to ensure that applicants are fairly evaluated and that the most qualified are nominated. These procedures are published in the Council’s biennial reports to the supreme court and to the legislature and are posted on the Council’s website. Every applicant is directed to the Council’s website to review the most current version of these procedures.
* Article IV, Section 5 of the Alaska Constitution; Titles 15 and 22 of the Alaska Statutes
As soon as possible after learning that a vacancy exists or is about to occur in the supreme court, court of appeals, superior court, or district court, the Council issues a press release announcing the vacancy, posts a notice on its website, and sends notice of the vacancy to all active members of the Alaska Bar Association. The notice describes the judicial vacancy, states the statutory requirements for the position, invites all qualified attorneys to apply, tells interested attorneys how to obtain applications, and sets the deadline for applying. The notice may also state that the Council has the discretion to use applications to make nominations for other pending or impending vacancies at the same level of court in the same location. The application deadline is typically three to four weeks after the Council announces the vacancy.
Council members and staff may actively encourage qualified persons to apply for a judicial position. The Council may cooperate with selection committees of the state bar or local bar associations, or other appropriate organizations to identify and recruit potential applicants. The Council may extend an application deadline to encourage more applications.
Application forms for open judicial positions may be requested from the Council’s office and are also available on the Council’s website. Each applicant seeking to be considered for nomination by the Council to an open judicial position must file a completed Judicial Council application form and must comply with all requirements described in the form. A sample of a standard Council application form is appended (Appendix A).
View the Selection Application Forms page to apply.
The application form asks for information that may be relevant to determine qualifications for office, including but not limited to: academic and employment history; bar and/or judicial discipline history; community service and pro bono activity; community activity and non-legal interests; involvement as a party in litigation; criminal record; credit history; military record; the addresses of all of the applicant’s residences in the past five years; and the applicant’s ability to perform essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodation. The Council asks each applicant to provide a photograph to assist members in recalling the interviews. The Council also asks whether an applicant prefers to be interviewed in public session or in executive session.
The Council requires an applicant to submit the names of three professional references and two character references. The Council asks the applicant to submit the names of attorneys and judges involved in three of the applicant’s cases in the past three years that went to trial and three of the applicant’s cases in the past three years that did not go to trial but in which the applicant did substantial work. An applicant must submit the names of persons who can verify and comment about the applicant’s past and present employment.
An applicant is asked to provide detailed information about the applicant's practice of law, including the percentage of practice in state versus federal court, the percentage of practice in civil versus criminal matters, and the percentage of practice at the appellate versus trial court level. An applicant must describe how often the applicant appears in court and must provide an estimate of how many jury and non-jury trials, appellate matters, and administrative hearings the applicant has handled.
The Council requires a sample of the applicant’s writing ten to twenty pages in length, prepared solely by the applicant within the past five years. The Council also asks the applicant to provide a list of any legal publications the applicant has authored.
An applicant is asked to provide the amount and source of the applicant’s income for the past three years and the names and occupations of the applicant’s immediate family members. The applicant is asked to identify any public or political office the applicant has held. The applicant is asked to provide information about his or her membership in legal and non-legal organizations and other information bearing on potential conflicts of interest.
Each applicant submits a brief written summary of his or her background, legal education, and legal experience. The Council posts applicants’ summaries on its website and invites attorneys to review them when responding to Council surveys. Applicants may choose to have their photograph posted on the website with their biographical summary.
Applicants must submit the completed questionnaire and writing sample and two copies of their photograph to the Council on or by the date set forth in the notice of vacancy. If an applicant applies for another judicial position within six months of a prior application, the applicant provides written notice to the Council of his or her intent to apply for the new vacancy. The Council may permit the applicant to rely on his or her most recent application, but requires the applicant to provide any supplemental information.
The Council maintains the confidentiality of sensitive and highly personal information in applications, including but not limited to: home and e-mail addresses; home and mobile telephone numbers; social security number; income; names and occupations of immediate family members; formal disciplinary or ethical complaints, charges or grievances brought against the applicant as an attorney or judge that did not result in public discipline; medical and health history; and the financial interests of the applicant. The Council maintains as non-public material all solicited counsel questionnaires, reference letters, and employment verifications except those that the authors state in writing can be provided to the governor. The Council maintains as non-public material all unsolicited comments and letters for which the author requests confidentiality or which the Council in its discretion believes should remain confidential to protect third parties.
Information not described above as non-public material is set forth in a separate part of the application and is available to the public.
As soon as possible after applications are received, Council staff review the applications for completeness and may reject non-conforming applications. Staff review applications to determine whether the applicant meets the minimum statutory requirements for the position, including active practice of law and residency requirements. Staff may request additional information from an applicant to resolve any potential problems in meeting statutory requirements. If the additional information does not resolve the problem, staff will refer the issue to the Council to make the determination. The Council may choose to determine the applicant’s eligibility immediately, to request further investigation, or to defer a decision pending completion of the interview process. In deciding if an applicant meets an active practice requirement, the Council will consider whether the applicant has substantially complied with the requirement.
Council staff begin an investigation to confirm and supplement information provided by the applicant. The Council writes to all of the applicant’s references and former employers. References and prior employers are asked to comment on the applicants’ qualifications under the criteria set forth in Article 1, Section 1 of the Council’s bylaws and Section VI of these procedures, among other things. Attorneys and judges identified by the applicant as having had recent experience with the applicant are sent questionnaires that ask about these qualities and request the respondent’s opinion about the applicant’s suitability for nomination. Questionnaires may be submitted electronically via the Council’s website or returned to the Council through the mail. Questionnaire respondents are provided with the option of signing their name. The Council does not share with applicants the materials it solicits, including reference letters, employment verification letters, or questionnaires. The Council may share with applicants the substance of a solicited comment. The Council does not reveal the identity of the respondent unless the respondent waives anonymity. The reference check takes about six weeks to complete.
Council staff review bar files for the applicant’s history with and standing in the bar, and fee arbitration and grievance histories, whether action was taken or not. It further investigates the allegations if necessary. An applicant’s credit report is obtained. Staff investigate whether the applicant has been a party to any civil litigation and if so, what the applicant’s involvement was in that litigation and how it was resolved. Staff investigate whether the applicant has had any criminal history, traffic violations, or administrative actions against his or her driver’s license. Staff review the applicant’s potential conflicts of interest as indicated on the application, or from attorney or public comment or other sources that could pose a significant problem for the proper functioning of the courts if the applicant were appointed. Staff members obtain and/or verify information on pro bono or other legal service activity. Staff members may otherwise investigate any specific verifiable information obtained from any source about an applicant’s fitness for office. This may include speaking with the source of that information, researching the Internet, newspapers, court files, transcripts, hearing records, or otherwise attempting to ascertain the veracity of the information. The background investigation normally takes about two months to complete. Because the Council continually solicits and receives public feedback about applicants, a background investigation can extend until the time the Council votes on its nominations.
After the application deadline, staff evaluate applicant writing samples for organization, use of language, correct grammar and syntax and other characteristics of good writing. Staff also review the samples for the quality of the applicant’s legal research and analysis.
1. Form of Survey
The Council surveys all active in-state members of the Alaska Bar Association. The Council also surveys inactive in-state members and in-state retired members and active out-of-state members if those members have made their e-mail addresses available.
The bar survey asks attorneys to rate each candidate on a five point scale [1 (Poor) to 5 (Excellent)] on six criteria: professional competence, integrity, judicial temperament, fairness, suitability of experience, and overall professional qualifications. Survey respondents indicate whether they based their numerical ratings on direct professional experience, other personal contacts, or professional reputation, or whether they are declining to evaluate a particular candidate due to insufficient knowledge. Respondents with direct professional experience with an applicant are asked to specify whether that experience includes experience within the past five years and whether that experience is substantial, moderate, or limited. Respondents are asked to provide demographic information including their length, location, and type of law practice and their gender.
The Council asks respondents to submit comments about an applicant. Respondents are not required to provide their names with each comment but are encouraged to do so. Respondents are reminded of their ethical obligation to be truthful in all comments submitted. Respondents are assured that their names, if provided, will not be given to applicants and will not be used by the Council to identify the respondent’s survey ratings. Sample pages of a bar survey are appended (Appendix B).
To view a sample of the survey, go to the Survey Sample document.
The Council uses an electronic survey and a paper survey to poll attorneys. Surveys are distributed about one week after the application deadline. Attorneys have three to four weeks to respond to the survey.
The Council maintains an updated list of active members, in-state inactive members and retired members of the Alaska Bar Association. Immediately after the application deadline, the Council sends the complete list to an independent contractor. The contractor receives paper surveys, administers the electronic survey and analyzes all survey data. For each selection, the contractor assigns a randomly selected control number to each attorney on the list. The same ID number is assigned for contemporaneous surveys.
The contractor sends an e-mail invitation to participate in the bar survey to attorneys on the Council’s e-mail list. The invitation provides an attorney with a password encoded link to access the survey. The electronic survey asks those attorneys who also receive paper surveys if they wish to continue receiving paper surveys. Attorneys receiving electronic surveys are sent an e-mail reminder prior to the response deadline, if they have not yet responded to the survey. Electronic survey data are encrypted during transmission to preserve the confidentiality of the data. The contractor strips the response of its e-mail address, and identifies the electronic survey response by the assigned control number for that selection.
The Council sends paper surveys to in-state active members who have indicated a preference for paper surveys or whose e-mail addresses are unknown to the Council. The paper survey reminds an attorney not to respond to the electronic survey if the attorney responds to the paper survey. Respondents are instructed to place the completed survey inside a plain envelope that is provided by the Council and marked “confidential.” That envelope then is placed inside a pre-paid postage return envelope addressed to the Council’s contractor, on which the respondent puts his or her name, address, and signature. Upon receipt, the contractor separates the outside envelope from the survey form. Thereafter, the contractor identifies the paper survey response by its control number.
The contractor eliminates the possibility of duplicate responses by comparing the control numbers of paper and electronic survey responses. If the contractor identifies duplicate responses, the contractor discards the survey that is less complete.
The contractor prepares a statistical analysis of all survey responses, including average ratings for each quality for each candidate by range. Ratings based on personal contacts or professional reputation are not included in most average ratings. The report provides detailed information about ratings by different demographic groups. The Council may use these data to identify patterns in survey results. The Council may ask the contractor to analyze the report for statistical or other anomalies in the data. The report includes a discussion of methodology and data management procedures. The Council publishes the report of numerical ratings on its website. Sample pages from an evaluation report are appended. (Appendix C)
The contractor also prepares a separate report that includes a transcription of all respondent survey comments about applicants. If a respondent signed a comment, the respondent’s name is transcribed with the comment. If a respondent did not sign a comment, the comment is associated with the new control number assigned by the contractor. The assignment of a new control number precludes the Council from identifying the author of a bar survey comment from a survey respondent who wants to remain anonymous. Staff may investigate substantive comments submitted in the bar survey.
The contractor provides the Council with its analysis and a transcript of all bar survey comments two to three weeks after the survey response deadline. Shortly thereafter Council staff inform applicants of survey results.
Staff inform the applicant of his or her ratings and provide the applicant with a general idea of the spectrum of ratings received by applicants. Staff do not identify the ratings of other applicants.
About one week after staff have contacted all applicants about their ratings, the Council publicly announces the numerical ratings received by applicants who have not withdrawn. An applicant’s ratings are not released publicly if the applicant withdraws sufficiently in advance of publication. All applicants who have not withdrawn receive a copy of the complete survey rating analysis. The Council posts the survey rating analysis on its website. The survey rating analysis remains on the Council website for six months after a judicial vacancy has been filled.
To view a sample of applicant's gathered information, go to the Sample Tech Report document.
Council staff edit the transcribed bar survey comments to remove information that might compromise the identities of respondents. When staff send an applicant his or her numerical ratings, staff include the applicant’s written, edited comments. The edited comments indicate whether the comments were signed or unsigned, but all identifying information about the survey respondent is removed. Bar survey comments about applicants are not released publicly, and applicants are not permitted to share them outside the interview room.
To insure the confidentiality of the written bar survey comments, an applicant is asked to destroy or return to the Council his or her edited comments at the conclusion of the selection process. Comments may be returned at or after the interview, or when the applicant withdraws his or her application.
Immediately after the application deadline has passed, the Council issues a press release announcing the names of applicants; it also publicizes and posts on its website the place and approximate date of the Council meeting to interview candidates and vote. In its press release and on its website, the Council invites comments from the public about applicants. The public is invited to write, telephone, or fax comments to the Council. The public is also invited to submit comments via the Council’s website.
The Council holds a public hearing to receive public comments, normally in the community where the judge will sit. The hearing typically coincides with the meeting to interview applicants. Subject to available funding, the Council advertises its public hearing through paid advertisements in major newspapers in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau, and in the location of the vacancy if it is outside of these communities. The Council may take public comments telephonically at the Council’s expense.
Council staff compile all solicited materials and any unsolicited materials about applicants. Approximately three weeks before the Council’s meeting to interview applicants, Council staff send a packet of materials to each Council member about the applicants. This packet includes:
These materials typically exceed one hundred pages of written materials per applicant. Council members review all of these materials before meeting to interview applicants. Staff may supply Council members with electronic versions of these materials instead of, or in addition to paper copies.
Within a few days after bar survey results are publicly released, the Council schedules specific interview times for applicants. The Council sends letters to applicants notifying them of the date, time, and location of their interview. Applicants are given about four to six weeks notice of their specific interview time. The Council posts a schedule of interview times on its website. In its notices about the Council meeting to interview applicants, the public is invited to contact the Council or review the Council’s website for an interview schedule.
The Council typically interviews all applicants. If an applicant applies for multiple judicial openings that are simultaneously pending, the applicant is interviewed only once for all vacancies.
Interviews usually occur in the location of the vacancy. The Council interviews applicants in person or may arrange an interview by telephone or other electronic means, at its discretion. Expenses incurred by the applicant are the applicant’s responsibility, although the Council has the discretion to reimburse applicants for travel expenses or the cost of a telephone interview.
The application gives applicants a choice between an interview in public session or an interview in executive session. Applicants may change their request at any time before the interview starts. An applicant’s choice of a public or private interview has no bearing on the Council’s determination of the applicant’s qualifications or on the questions the Council may ask. The Council notes on its schedule which interviews are expected to be in public session and which are expected to be in executive session. To the extent possible, the Council schedules public interviews consecutively.
Without identifying the source, staff inform an applicant of comments about the applicant that were not included in the bar survey comments forwarded to the applicant.
Immediately before interviewing an applicant, the Council convenes briefly in executive session and each Council member discloses to other Council members any relevant information known or communicated to the Council member about the applicant that other members may not know. Members disclose conversations the member has had with an applicant about a past or present judicial application.
An interview usually lasts about forty-five minutes.
The interview is preceded by an introduction of the applicant to all Council members and any Council staff present. The chief justice typically begins the interview by asking the applicant to provide an opening statement concerning the applicant’s interest in and qualifications for the position. Each Council member is then given an opportunity to question the applicant. After all Council members have completed the first round of questioning, any Council member may ask additional questions. The chief justice then has an opportunity to ask questions. At the conclusion of the interview, applicants may make a brief closing statement and address any matters not raised during the interview.
The Council's interview questions will focus on matters relevant to determining the applicant's qualifications under the criteria set out in Article I, Section 1 of the Council's bylaws. Council members may inquire about any relevant concerns raised in the materials provided to the Council or any issues arising from the applicant's testimony before the Council.
Members will not ask questions designed to elicit views on issues likely to be litigated before the applicant, if appointed. Nor will Council members ask about an applicant's political affiliations, religious beliefs, or other “prohibited considerations” listed in its bylaws, except when reliable evidence or the applicant's own testimony suggests that questions relating to these topics may be reasonably necessary to address specific concerns about the applicant's qualifications. Thus, for example, if the Council received credible and specific information indicating that an applicant's actions on the bench might be influenced by religious bias, Council members could pursue the issue to ensure that the applicant would be able to act fairly and impartially as a judge. Similarly, if an applicant made statements about having strong political affiliations or views, Council members could ask follow-up questions to confirm that these affiliations and views would not carry over to the applicant's judicial performance.
When questioning an applicant about information received from a source who was promised confidentiality, Council members phrase their questions to avoid revealing the confidential source's identity, and the Council will not otherwise disclose the source to the applicant during the interview or at any other time. When a Council member asks a question concerning unfavorable information received from a confidential or anonymous source and it appears that the confidentiality or anonymity of the Council's source might impair the applicant's ability to answer the question, the applicant's inability to respond fully will be taken into account. If the applicant can shed any light on the allegation, the Council will consider the applicant's explanation; if not, the applicant's failure to explain will have no negative effect on the Council's decision. An applicant who is asked such a question has no “burden” to defend against the confidential or anonymous allegation; and the mere fact that a Council member asks about a confidential or anonymous allegation does not imply that the Council member or the Council as a whole assume that the allegation is true. Although Council members may ask such questions to determine if the applicant might be able to shed light on the issue, members always bear in mind that, ultimately, anonymous allegations cannot be held against an applicant unless they are corroborated, independently substantiated, or acknowledged by the applicant.
Article I, Section 1 of the Council's Bylaws requires Council members to determine the qualifications of individual judicial applicants by considering the following selection criteria:
Immediately after concluding an individual applicant's interview, the Council discusses that applicant to enable each Council member to evaluate the applicant's qualifications under the selection criteria described above and in Article I, Section 1 of the Council's Bylaws. The Council holds the discussion in executive session to promote candid discussion about the qualifications of applicants. Each Council member is given an opportunity to comment on that member’s assessment of the applicant; the order of discussion follows the order in which Council members questioned the applicant.
At this stage, the discussion centers on the individual applicant's strengths and weaknesses under the selection criteria. Council members do not decide which applicants rank as most qualified among all the applicants. Each Council member independently assesses the individual applicant's qualifications. The Council does not attempt to reach a consensus, and no vote occurs.
After each member has spoken, all members have an opportunity to make further comments. The discussion then ends, and the Council turns to the next applicant interview, if any is scheduled. The Council repeats the same procedure until all candidates have been interviewed and their individual qualifications have been discussed.
After all applicants have been interviewed, the Council deliberates on the entire slate of candidates. By this time, each Council member has evaluated the individual qualifications of all applicants under the criteria described in Article I, Section 1 of the bylaws; the deliberations now turn to comparing and ranking all applicants so that each member can identify the candidates whose overall qualifications, in that member's view, make them most qualified to be nominated. The procedure for making this determination is spelled out in Article VIII, Section 4 of the Council's bylaws. This section requires Council members to select the candidates who are most qualified under the criteria described in Article I, Section 1 by considering:
In all cases, then, each Council member's final choice of the most qualified applicants will reflect a relative determination that depends in part on the strength of the entire slate of applicants, the nature of the open position, and the needs of the community to be served.
With these procedures in mind, the Council begins its deliberations. It deliberates in executive session to promote candid discussion about the qualifications of applicants in order to determine the most qualified applicants. The order of discussion usually follows the order in which Council members questioned the first applicant for the position; any comments from the chief justice come last. After each Council member has spoken, all members may engage in additional discussion until no member wishes to make further comments.
Although all members consider the views of other members and strive for consensus if possible, each ultimately makes an independent decision as to which candidates are most qualified under the Council's selection standards, voting on the basis of the member's personal judgment and conscience. No vote is taken in executive session. The Council has no policy regarding the ideal or “target” number of applicants who should be named as most qualified — either generally or for any given judicial position. In each case, the number of candidates nominated is simply determined by how many candidates receive four or more affirmative votes — a determination that occurs in the public session after the Council ends its deliberations.
As soon as practicable after the Council completes its deliberations in executive session, it goes into public session and takes its formal vote to nominate the most qualified applicants. Each Council member votes according to that member’s personal assessment of the applicants’ qualifications as determined under the criteria and procedures set out in this statement of procedures. The vote consists of a roll call vote taken for each applicant individually, in alphabetical order. The Council's executive director ordinarily calls the roll. After the roll call is completed as to all applicants for a vacancy, the person administering the voting confirms that no further voting by regular members is needed and declares voting by regular members closed. At any time during the voting on a vacancy until the person administering the voting declares voting by regular members closed, Council members may change their vote for or against any applicant. Once voting by regular members is closed, the chief justice votes if the vote might affect the outcome.
To be nominated, a candidate must receive four or more affirmative votes. If the Council votes to nominate fewer than two applicants it will decline to submit any names. Typically, the Council will re-advertise the position immediately.
Council members do not rely on anonymous comments unless they are corroborated, independently substantiated, or acknowledged by the applicant.
The Council refrains from any form of discrimination prohibited under state and federal law.
The Council does not consider an applicant’s political or religious beliefs, but will consider whether the applicant’s personal beliefs indicate a substantial bias or conflict of interest that could impede the proper functioning of the courts or show that the applicant would be unable to apply the law impartially.
The Council does not consider an applicant’s likelihood of appointment by the governor.
At the interview, applicants are asked for contact numbers where they can be reached immediately after the Council’s vote. As soon as possible after the Council completes its vote, the Council’s executive director or designee telephones applicants about the Council’s vote. The Council also sends each applicant written notice of its decisions. Nominations are posted on the Council’s website as soon as possible after the meeting. The Council issues a press release about its nominations.
Each Council member returns all meeting materials to staff at the conclusion of each meeting. Any member who received an electronic copy of the meeting materials, deletes the electronic copy.
As soon as possible after the Council meeting, staff prepare a list of nominated candidates compiled in alphabetical order. Staff also prepare a press release listing the Council’s nominees.
Except for good cause, as soon as possible after individual applicants are notified, Council staff call the governor’s office to communicate the Council’s nominations.
Except for good cause, on the first business day after the Council’s vote, the Council sends the governor a letter listing the nominees in alphabetical order, accompanied by the following materials: the Council’s vote tally; each nominee’s application, including the confidential sections; the results of any qualification surveys, without comments provided to the Council in confidence; written responses solicited by the Council from persons identified by the nominee in his or her application as references, former employers, and attorneys and judges who had recent experience with the nominee, but only if these persons gave written permission to send their responses to the governor; and any unsolicited materials received by the Council about the nominee, unless the source requested, in writing, that the material be kept confidential.
The Council does not reconsider its nominees after the names are submitted except in the case of death, disability, or withdrawal of a nominee. If the death, disability, or withdrawal of one or more nominees leaves the governor with fewer than two names for filling a vacancy, the Council may, upon request of the governor, submit enough additional names so that the governor has at least two nominees for the vacancy. The Council will vote to determine if there are additional applicants who can be nominated from the original list of applicants. If no candidate receives sufficient votes to be nominated, the Council will re-advertise the position.
Effective date: October 3, 2005, amended October 17, 2009, amended June 20, 2012, amended October 9, 2013, amended January 16, 2015.