Fairbanks magistrate to fill Nome Superior Court judge seat
Last week Governor Bill Walker announced his decision to fill the vacant Nome Superior Court Judge seat with Romano DiBenedetto of Fairbanks. The vacancy was created by the early retirement of Judge Timothy Dooley.
Out of a pool of six applicants, the Alaska Judicial Council had nominated Nome District Attorney John A. Earthman and Romano DiBenedetto after a hearing held on December 8 in Nome.
On February 9, the Governor made his decision known and appointed DiBenedetto.
Walker said in a press release, “Serving as a judge requires a deep understanding of the law and respect for the diverse cultures and backgrounds throughout our state. Each of these individuals has given selflessly to their communities in a variety of ways. These unique experiences will be of great benefit to the people they serve.”
DiBenedetto, according to his biographical statements submitted to the Judicial Council, has no experience in rural Alaska or with Northwest Alaskan cultures.
DiBenedetto has been a magistrate judge in Fairbanks since 2012, working on cases regarding family law and probate matters, criminal arraignments and applications for post-conviction relief. He previously served in the Fairbanks District Attorney’s Office. According to his biographical statement, he grew up in Chicago, graduated from University of Notre Dame and the Northwestern Law School, receiving his law degree in 1993. He worked at the district attorney’s office in Chicago and in 2011 “pursued a lifelong dream of moving to Alaska.” He lists as hobbies eating healthy, going to the gym, running and hiking and viewing sports.
In a Judicial Selection Survey conducted by the University of Alaska Anchorage for the Alaska Judicial Council, researchers asked Alaska Bar Association members to evaluate the applicants on six characteristics: Professional Competence, Integrity, Fairness, Judicial Temperament, Suitability of the applicant’s experience for the vacancy and Overall rating for the position. The rating scale ranged from 1 for poor to 5, for excellent.
John Earthman outscored DiBenedetto on all six characteristics and had an overall rating of 4.3 compared to DiBenedetto’s overall rating of 3.6.
Earthman has worked in Nome in the District Attorney’s office for 17 years. He had applied for the same position in 2012 after long time Nome Judge Ben Esch retired, but then-Governor Sean Parnell chose Timothy Dooley over Earthman. Dooley was investigated by the Alaska Judicial Conduct Commission for making inappropriate remarks from the bench that showed cultural bias and eroded the public’s confidence in the judiciary. He was eventually censured. Dooley has not served in his capacity as a judge since last year for reasons of illness, he did not stand for the retention vote last November and his retirement became effective Feb. 8.
In an email request to explain his decision, Katie Marquette, a spokeswoman for Governor Walker responded, “Governor Walker respects Mr. Earthman’s work and his service to the State of Alaska. Each individual nominated by the Alaska Judicial Council is a highly qualified and esteemed member of the legal community. After conducting personal interviews and reviewing all available information, Governor Walker felt Mr. DiBenedetto was the best choice for this judicial appointment.”
A follow up question asking if the governor could expand on why he felt DiBenedetto was the best choice for Nome remained unanswered as of press time.