Chief Justice Joel Bolger, like many lawyers, is good with words, but the words have no real meaning.

This is the lesson I learned during my first official session on the Alaska Judicial Council. I read the Chief Justice’s June 8, 2020 letter.

Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger

Justice Bolger wrote: “We recognize that too often African-American, Alaska Natives, and other people of color are not treated with the same dignity and respect as white members of our communities. And we recognize that as community members, lawyers, and especially as judicial officers, we must do more to change this reality.”

Yet when confronted with a test of his own prejudice, his own condescending attitude toward rural Alaska, his own “big city” bias, he failed the test.

The vacancy the Alaska Judicial Council was dealing with was to replace the soon to be retired Justice Bolger himself. On his way out, he still wanted to control who might replace him. There was one applicant for the State Supreme Court who was from rural Alaska. That same applicant was also the only person of color to apply.

That applicant was Superior Court Judge Paul Roetman, presiding judge of the entire Second Judicial District. The Judicial Council split 3-3 on nominating Judge Roetman.

The tie-breaking vote was Chief Justice Bolger.

Let us review what he wrote just one year ago:

 “We judges must examine…what biases – both conscious and unconscious – we bring, and how we can improve our justice system…We must continue our efforts to make our court system and its judges reflect the community that we serve.”

Judge Paul Roetman

“We must also work to attract more people of color to the practice of law and, ultimately, to judicial careers.”

When put to the test, Chief Justice Bolger proved his biases against even nominating a person of color and a person who lives in Rural Alaska. What did the (very white, and very urban, and urbane) chief justice have to say when he denied Judge Roetman even the opportunity to be considered for appointment? Nothing.

In my opinion his vote illustrates that his June 8, 2020 letter was just puffery.

Justice Bolger had no trouble writing these words: “To heal the raw wounds of racism and history so painfully laid bare.” But when it was up to him to nominate the only applicant who was both from rural Alaska and the only person of color, he voted no. Instead, only three white, urban judges were nominated.

I was shocked that a highly qualified, sitting, presiding judge was denied the opportunity to even be considered by the governor. You see, the way our constitution is designed, the governor must appoint judges only from the nominations the Judicial Council sends along. The Council has total control over the nomination. The governor has no discretion except to pick from a list we send him.

What exactly was so negative about the presiding judge of the Second Judicial District that he should be denied the chance to be considered by the governor?

And who are the seven members of the Judicial Council? Three of us are public members, appointed by the governor for six-year terms and subject to a vote of confirmation by a joint session of the Alaska Legislature.

Three other members are privately selected by the Board of Governors of the Alaska Bar Association. Lawyers choosing lawyers to choose the Judges. That is the way the current system works. The chief justice chairs the council and only casts tie-breaking votes.

Is it any surprise that the public members voted to give Judge Roetman a chance to be considered? All three public members of the council were convinced Judge Roetman was highly qualified and deserved an opportunity to be considered by the governor.

The three lawyers voted no.

What exactly was so negative about the presiding judge of the Second Judicial District that he should be denied the chance to be considered by the governor?

I do not make the argument that skin tone means very much, but Chief Justice Bolger prominently did.

He did not attend enough lawyer club activities in the urban areas? Perhaps he does not dress the part? Maybe he is good enough for rural Alaska, but not good enough for the big league in the big city. Maybe he uses syntax that does not sound “white” enough. I expect the responses from the lawyers will be what minorities are very used to hearing … not up to par, not quite good enough, not the “best timber,” does not have quite the right temperament, or some other gobbledygook.

Those of us who are women recall such lame, chauvinist and absurd objections to our consideration in times past.

At least the Judicial Council has moved beyond that prejudice. Although it appears to still harbor some nasty biases – conscious or unconscious – when it comes to Rural Alaska and people of color.

If only a presiding judge, a person of color, a lifelong Alaskan, with decades of experience, who lives and works and understands rural Alaska could be given the same opportunity.

The ability, common sense and integrity of each applicant is what counts. I do not make the argument that skin tone means very much, but Chief Justice Bolger prominently did. He made a huge point of this in his June 8, 2020, letter (a letter signed by four of the five members of the Supreme Court).

But when push came to shove, when his was the deciding vote, he killed the nomination of Judge Paul Roetman – the only rural Alaskan and the only person of color to even dare to apply to the all-urban and all-white State Supreme Court.

The Judicial Council is responsible for forwarding (at least two) names for nomination for every vacancy on the court, but nothing stops us from forwarding all highly qualified applicants for consideration by the governor.

What Chief Justice Bolger, in his final act on the Judicial Council, did to the dreams and aspirations of people of color and rural Alaskans is devastating and terribly, terribly wrong.

The views expressed here are those of the author.

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Alaska’s chief justice denies only rural applicant and person of color from spot on Supreme Court

Kristie Babcock
Kristie Babcock is a public member of the Alaska Judicial Council. She is a lifelong Alaskan, business owner and resident of the Kenai Peninsula. She worked as director of boards and commissions for two governors and has observed the Judicial Council for over 30 years.


  • Timothy Colbath says:

    Just More proof that we are governed by liars and grafters. Leave color out of the equation – why was the only rural Judge overlooked?

  • Michael S Totten says:

    Probably was a conservative and we all know how the 9th circus works

  • cora malone says:

    makes me wonder if that is the reason my children were stolen by ocs/opa/court system, they all in kahoots with eachother. dont believe everything you read, i was set up. i did not neglect nor abused my children. we fell victim to their biased system, it is not designed for the people, rather to serve themselves! i am ethnic and continue to be targeted by those people. God help my children!!!

    • Jen says:

      I understand. Becareful which candidates you support and never support a Democrat. Vote a candidate by their history following Judeo-Christian values-for life matters. They’ll hire better directors and managers. You know! No gubernatorial leaders ever tackled Office of Childrens Services and its questionable employees. but! leaders and dumb public citizens support for the fostercare system is Sickening! Majority of those children taken into fostercare really belong with their natural birth parents evenwhile there parents need parenting help, mental health, and addict help. there isnt anyone who’d love the child more than their natural parent whom OCS taken them away despite questionable parenting styles. I heard from someone who work at OCS they have a turn-over employee people come and leave. That tells me OCS is a toxic work environment, which state leaders have been doing the people wrong not cleaning up OCS management level removing bad management personell. Government workers never respected the rights of children. They don’t hire peoples sensitive to the rights of children which include the child’s preference being with their natural parent evenwhile their parent is a little dysfunctional or no more dysfunctional than the foster parent. Hahaha. Cause I seen Foster parents around town and I am like Why would OCS put a child with that adult! OCS couldnt find anyone better!? Hahahaha

  • Elizabeth Henry says:

    And of course the hypocrite Chief Justice Bolger is leaving his position so he doesn’t care about showing his true colors. And as stated above repeatedly already, the feigned race positions by the left are lies. It is all a rues to fatten the leftist voter base by charming the unaware to believe they, the left, really care, and are ‘needed’ to right such grievous wrongs.. Add to that the actual real indignity of basically telling anyone that is supposedly of ‘minority’ or ‘disadvantaged’ status that they need the democratic parity to help them succeed. Basically the read between the lines is that they can’t do it without help. And it is hilarious that those fooled never take the time to notice all the hugely successful, educated, hardworking people of said ‘minority’ and ‘disadvantaged’ groups there are across our country. Case in point, Judge Roetman. Obviously a very successful man who has worked hard, but now one of those who claim to be his necessary ‘savior’ , from his supposed ‘disadvantaged’ condition, simply throws him under the proverbial bus. Yes, likely he was a conservative. And you know THEY are the scourge of the earth!

  • Steve Peterson says:

    Well written Kristie. I’m glad you’re on the JC, but it is a rigged system that needs to be changed.

  • Neil A DeWitt says:

    It’s sounds like more of what I’ve been hearing a lot about. It’s most of the judges are corrupt and prejudice. That’s what I’ve been hearing from rural folks. Is it true? This article make it look so. We the people of Alaska deserve better than that. We deserve honest and equal judges.. I say the governor needs to sent them all back and let them send 3 different applicants forward for nomination.

  • Mike Lash says:

    I don’t know either Justice Bolger or Judge Roetman’s position on anything, whether they’re conservative or liberal, right or left. However, this editorial left me feeling very uncomfortable in that we feel the need to even discuss race and color when selecting someone for a position. These attributes should not even be a consideration, as they are merely outward appearances, and by even discussing elevating someone based on color of skin is racist behavior in itself. Promotions like this should solely be based on the content of character, intellect, and past performance. Let’s please stop this terrible trend of division by race. Segregation officially ended almost 60 years ago. It’s time to finally put it behind us for good.

    • Mike Lash says:

      In a follow up I did look up some information on Judge Roetman and it looks like he would have been really great choice for justice constitutionalist values. Based on his character and ideology, Alaskans were robbed of an excellent candidate. However, his race should still have nothing to do with this discussion.

    • Mike Lash says:

      In a follow up I did look up some information on Judge Roetman and it looks like he would have been a really great choice for justice with constitutionalist values. Based on his character and ideology, Alaskans were robbed of an excellent candidate. However, his race should still have nothing to do with this discussion.

  • Mike Moore says:

    Last week when the article came out regarding who was to be considered, I looked at all of the candidates, and wrote two names down to see if any of them would be given the nod. The first choice was, as if you haven’t guessed by now was Judge Roetman, and the second, was Margaret Walsh. Why did I choose these two as candidates, and why did I have Judge Roetman, at the top of the list? Well, I don’t care about color or gender quotas, but what I do care about is having judges that are Alaskans. Normally, if selecting an applicant I would just look a whose best for the position by considering knowledge, experience, and education. But here in Alaska we demand something a little more than back east attorneys looking to make a quick buck or title. They have no Idea who we are, or our way of life. We demand someone who has lived and grown in Alaska, who knows how Alaska works and the people that do that work. The Governor should send the chosen nominees back to the Council, and say try again, I need a more diverse selection to make my decision.

  • EscapedAnchorage says:

    Seems to me the chief justice is a virtue signaling projecting hypocrite. These activist need to be removed from the bench. No wonder our supreme court is so fubar.

  • Proud Alaskan says:

    Yes, it should be the best qualified person man or women.
    Red, Yellow, Black, or White.
    The only way we can get them out is to vote them out, by not retaining them.
    Funny how that works, we don’t get to vote them in.


    Teach your children to judge a person by what they do, not what they say. Our system is corrupt and the only way to change it is to FIGHT. Of course, the overwhelming majority of people won’t even hear about this and, even if they do, will do absolutely nothing about it (like staying in touch with their representatives; which is really easy to do).

  • Dave says:

    The totally rigged system to make sure that all the connected infrastructure appointees with yow in line with the hidden agendas
    Total corruption.