Dunleavy selects 2nd Palmer judge from Judicial Council finalists
Gov. Mike Dunleavy has selected a second Palmer judge from a list of candidates provided by the Alaska Judicial Council, after he previously decided not to in a move that violated state law.
The Dunleavy administration announced Wednesday the appointment of Kristen Stohler, a former public defender who has been in private practice since 2011, to the second vacancy on the Palmer Superior Court. She will replace retiring Judge Vanessa White.
John Cagle, the former head of the state Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, takes recently retired Judge Gregory Heath’s seat.
Cagle, Stohler and Christina Rankin were named as finalists by the Judicial Council for the two seats in January, after interviews with 11 applicants. Dunleavy selected Cagle for a judicial seat ahead of the deadline, but declined to make a second selection from the list on March 21 amid concerns over "whether the judicial selection process was consistent with the merit and qualifications based standard of the Alaska judicial system.”
The Alaska Constitution says Dunleavy must select a judge from the list and state law calls for the governor to make judicial selections within 45 days of receiving a list of finalists.
The council delivered the nominees’ packets to the Governor’s office on February 4. His appointment of Stohler on Wednesday was 72 days later.
Last month, Dunleavy called on the council for additional information regarding the nomination process. The governor then met with Joel Bolger, chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, after Bolger defended the nominating process. Dunleavy called their meeting "productive and fruitful."
In 2004, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski initially rejected nominees from the council, according to council spokeswoman Susanne DiPietro, but ultimately relented and selected from its list after “the council and the governor had a dialogue.” An earlier email from DiPietro said the two other times governors have asked publicly for more names, they both appointed within the 45-day period.
When questioned about his violation of the law that outlines the deadline, Dunleavy said, "[...] the idea that it has to be 45 days, that’s a legislative issue."
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