Reigh, Joanis tapped as top two for Dillingham Superior Court

Dec 7, 2016

Alaska Judicial Council interviewed seven candidates and took public testimony Tuesday before selecting Tina Reigh and Lance Joanis to send to Gov. Walker.

Magistrate Judge Tina Reigh, second from right, listened as many offered their public support to the Alaska Judicial Council Tuesday. Gov. Walker will pick either Reigh or Lance Joanis to be the next judge in Dillingham.
Credit KDLG

The list of candidates for Dillingham Superior Court Judge was narrowed to two Tuesday, following a vote of the Alaska Judicial Council. Magistrate Judge Tina Reigh of Dillingham and Assistant Attorney General Lance Joanis of Kenai were picked with unanimous approval of the Council members, and will be forwarded to Governor Bill Walker for final selection. KDLG’s Dave Bendinger has more.

Audio Transcript: Tina Reigh is the current magistrate judge at the Dillingham Court, and before that spent a decade with Alaska Legal Services in Dillingham. Lance Joanis began his career as a district attorney in Bethel for several years before taking a job as the DA in Kenai, then transferring to the state’s civil division in Kenai.

Reigh and Joanis stood out from the other five applicants, though the Judicial Council did not specify exactly why. Alaska Chief Justice Craig Stowers presided Tuesday, and said it’s the Council’s constitutional duty to forward along at least two names. More could be sent, but Stowers said the Council has made it a practice to identify the “tallest timber."

"You may have a group of qualified candidates but there may be several that just truly are outstanding, the most highly qualified," he said. "It’s been the historical practice of the council to look for that tall timber."

Chief Justice Craig Stowers presided over the Alaska Judicial Council's vetting of applicants for the Dillingham Superior Court Judge job Tuesday.
Credit KDLG

Nine applicants originally put their names up for consideration. Two withdrew, leaving seven for the Council to interview. Members of the Alaska Bar Association weigh in about their colleagues, usually anonymously, and the council takes in public comments. Judges are not elected to the bench in Alaska, but it is still a grueling vetting, said Justice Stowers.

“You put your name in, then you stand ready to take your shots. Sometimes anonymous comments are made that are very painful, and anybody would be hurt by them. Sometimes they’re just not fair, they’re wrong, and nevertheless it’s out there for all of the public to see, and that’s a hard thing to do. It takes courage and character to run that gauntlet, so I do want to thank and honor all of the people that applied for these jobs," Stowers told the audience.

Around a dozen people offered comments to the Council Tuesday, either in person or by phone. Those comments were overwhelmingly favored Tina Reigh for the job. Tom Tilden of Dillingham said Reigh's experience in Bristol Bay will help her connect the court with the various cultures spread around the region.

"Her work as a legal services attorney, as a magistrate, has brought her to those folks," Tilden said. "I think she has an understanding of the culture, and an understanding of the area. And she lives here, she bought a home. Her husband teaches here, her children are in school here. She’s part of this community, she’s part of this area."

DeeDee Bennis of Dillingham worked alongside Reigh at the Bristol Bay Native Association, and also praised her commitment to the area.

"Her current work as Magistrate continues to add to her professional competence. Her life experience within our community, and her diversity of experience, exposure to persons of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and she demonstrates interest in areas outside of the legal field ... is immensely appreciated," Bennis told the Council members.

DeeDee Bennis spoke favorably of Tina Reigh, who has applied for the Dillingham Superior Court Judge position.
Credit KDLG

Others brought issues to the council not specific to any candidate, such as a desire to see the next Judge help crack down on problems related to domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse.

"I’ve been on the Council five years, and the public comments today were so wonderful," said Aimee Oravec, an Anchorage attorney. "I really listened to the comments, and I was so happy to see how much this community cares. You live in a very special place and I appreciate it."

The votes of the Council members were unanimously in favor of Reigh and Joanis. None of the other candidates received a yes vote.

The two names go to Governor Bill Walker who will appoint one to the bench. Walker has asked for a little more than the usual 45 days while to accommodate his treatment for prostate cancer. 

Retiring Judge Pat Douglass chose not to stand for retention and stepped down in November. Her predecessor, Fred Torrisi, was the first Superior Court Judge in Dillingham. The pay is $226,716 annually.

Tina Reigh only applied for the Dillingham vacancy. Lance Joanis applied to both the Kenai and Dillingham positions. He and Kenai Magistrate Judge Jennifer Wells were both forwarded along for consideration for Kenai. 

The Alaska Judicial Council is working to fill vacancies all over the state.

"This may be historic," said Chief Justice Stowers. "Given the number of vacancies in Kenai, in Bethel, in Dillingham, in Nome, we have a Court of Appeals vacancy, we have two vacancies the Council is going to be interviewing for in Anchorage ... this may be the largest number of vacancies in one timeframe, proportionally, in the state's history."

Reach the author at dave@kdlg.org or 907.842.5281.