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New precedent: Gleason is first woman on federal bench in Alaska

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Posted: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 11:59 pm | Updated: 1:35 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.


Alaska has a new U.S. District Court judge, the first woman to serve on the federal bench in the state. Sharon Gleason of Anchorage, who has served as a state Superior Court judge since 2001, received confirmation from the U.S. Senate Tuesday.

Besides being noteworthy as the first woman to serve as a federal judge in Alaska, Gleason is noteworthy for the bipartisan support she received. Both Alaska’s Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, who recommended her, and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted for Gleason’s confirmation, which was approved 87-8. President Obama nominated Gleason in April.

Gleason was appointed to the Alaska Superior Court in 2001 after 17 years in private practice. She worked at Rice, Volland, Gleason and Taylor from 1984 to 1995, when she became a sole practitioner. She started her career in Alaska as a clerk for Alaska Supreme Court Justice Edmond Burke in 1983 after receiving her law degree from the University of California Davis.

As a state judge, Gleason has been involved in several high-profile cases, where she distinguished herself with sound reasoning and attention to detail. “Parties (in lawsuits) almost universally leave a hearing or case feeling that she has understood them and thought carefully about her decision,” Murkowski said of Gleason.

Fairbanks residents might recall a few of these cases.

In a dispute about the taxable value of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, Gleason last year set its worth at about $10 billion, about 10 times higher than oil companies had sought. She based the ruling on what it would cost to replace the line, minus depreciation and some other costs, rather than alternative methods sought by oil companies.

In a 2007 ruling, Gleason rejected a claim from the state’s teachers union and several school districts that the Legislature wasn’t spending enough to fulfill the state’s constitutional obligation to provide for education in the state. Gleason acknowledged that not all school districts were providing a good education, but she said districts get enough money “to provide to their children adequate instruction.”

These were only a few of the complex, difficult cases Gleason has handled. As she moves to the federal bench, the disputes won’t get any easier. She appears to be up to the challenge, though. And her first precedent — the ascension of a woman to the federal bench in Alaska — is one to cheer.

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