Homer Alaska - Letters

Story last updated at 6:33 PM on Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tribute to Judge James Fitzgerald

The passing of Judge James Fitzgerald marked the final passing of the four Superior Court judges I clerked for in 1965, following Joe Brewer as law clerk, (Judges Moody, Davis, Gilbert and Fitzgerald). My office was next to Judge Fitzgerald's and Sydney, his secretary. Both were very good to a young lawyer just out of law school. Clerk of Court Anna Mae Vocacek also was very helpful.

I believe I was the only Republican in the Anchorage Court House at the time, which made the experience even more interesting. Judge Fitzgerald was a true scholar of the law and kept a notebook on all the Alaska cases. Often, when my briefs and explanations ran too long, Judge Fitz would suggest that I shorten and summarize. He also admonished me, "Jim, just don't get me reversed."

As my former law partner, Jim Fisher, the founder of the Kenai Peninsula Bar Association advises, Judge Fitzgerald was crucial in establishing local judicial services on the Kenai Peninsula. During his service as presiding judge, he sent all the cases involving the Kenai Peninsula to Kenai, which gave us the necessary evidence that we needed as a resident Superior Court judge, the first being Judge James Hanson. Tom Wardell was the first Kenai district attorney and Bob Coats was the first Kenai public defender.

Judge Fitzgerald was a lion of the Alaska Judiciary, having served on the Superior and Supreme state courts and then on the federal bench. As a Democrat, his appointment to U.S. District Court by President Ford, a Republican, after being recommended by Sen. Ted Stevens, is further evidence of Judge Fitzgerald's widely recognized judicial abilities. He was totally devoted to his wife and children and to Alaska. Judge Fitzgerald will be sorely missed.

James C. Hornaday

(Former Superior Court law clerk, retired judge and current mayor of Homer)