Dunleavy picks Sitka judge for Supreme Court, first justice in decades from small-town Alaska

Jude Pate
Jude Pate, appointed to the Alaska Supreme Court by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Jan. 20, 2023, is seen in an undated photo provided by Pate to the Alaska Judicial Council. (Handout photo)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Friday appointed Jude Pate of Sitka to the Alaska Supreme Court, making him the first justice to come directly from someplace other than Juneau, Anchorage or Fairbanks since 1960.

Before Pate, the last justice who met those standards was Walter Hodge, who came from Nome and served on the court in 1959 and 1960. 

Former Chief Justice Joel Bolger came from Kodiak but served on the state Court of Appeals in Anchorage before joining the Supreme Court in 2013.

Dunleavy announced the appointment by email Friday. 

“The governor interviewed each of the nominees and selected Judge Pate because he determined he was the best candidate for the court,” said Jeff Turner, the governor’s deputy communications director.

The governor’s office did not answer questions asking whether Pate’s residency was a factor. In 2021, the governor sought new nominees for a Supreme Court vacancy, citing the lack of a rural option. 

Pate was appointed to fill a vacancy created this month by the retirement of Justice Daniel Winfree, who is reaching the constitutionally mandated retirement age of 70.

In December, the Alaska Judicial Council nominated four experienced attorneys as options for the vacancy. Under the state constitution, the council examines the qualifications of applicants for a vacancy and selects a list of nominees based on merit, not political affiliation. 

The other three nominees were Anchorage Superior Court Judge Dani Crosby, Department of Law attorney Kate Demarest and Fairbanks attorney Aimee Oravec. 

If Dunleavy had picked any of those three, it would have put three women on the five-person high court, creating the first majority-female Alaska Supreme Court in state history.

In addition to being the first rural member from outside of the three largest cities in decades, Pate is also the first member of the court to come from Southeast Alaska since the retirement of Justice Bud Carpeneti in 2013.

Born in Germany to a military family, Pate has extensive legal experience as a judge, tribal attorney and public defender, according to his resume, and he has a colorful early job history that includes jobs as “a baker, house painter, film projectionist, bartender, construction worker, hotel maid, a pizza delivery driver, and briefly as a strawberry field worker and as an attendant in a tanning salon.”

A graduate of the University of Kansas and Lewis & Clark Northwestern School of Law, he has lived in Alaska for 30 years and was appointed a Sitka Superior Court judge by then-Gov. Bill Walker in 2017.

Correction: Former Alaska Supreme Court Justice Bud Carpeneti’s title has been corrected.

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