Alaska Chief Justice recuses himself in gubernatorial recall case

Alaska’s Chief Justice, Joel Bolger, has recused himself from a case involving the legality of a campaign to recall the state’s governor, Mike Dunleavy. Bolger made the decision in light of his previous statements criticizing the governor for failing to follow established procedures in appointing a district judge. Bolger also told audiences that Alaskans should resist “political influence” over the judiciary and should fight for judicial independence.

The Court invited interested parties to file motions seeking Bolger’s recusal, with a February 26 deadline. No motions were received, but Bolger determined on his own that recusal was appropriate. In a two-page Recusal Notice, he stated:

As stated previously, I do not have any personal bias or prejudice concerning the parties or attorneys involved in this case.  However, I have special public responsibilities as the administrative head of the Alaska Court System and as the chairman ex-officio of the Alaska Judicial Council.  In those capacities, I have made public statements that could suggest a strong disagreement with the governor’s conduct on some very fundamental issues affecting the judicial branch, conduct that forms part of the basis for the recall petition under consideration.  In other words, this is a case where a reasonable person might question whether my judgment is affected by my overriding public responsibilities to the justice system.

Earlier thoughts on Bolger’s comments, and the propriety of judges speaking out, here.

The Court will consider the legality of the recall on March 25, with retired Justice Robert Eastaugh filling in for Bolger. It is widely expected that the Court will uphold the validity of the recall effort.

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