FAIRBANKS—One of the lead attorneys who fought to prove the innocence of the Fairbanks Four is now head of the legal department she once battled.
Gov. Bill Walker on Tuesday announced Jahna Lindemuth as his pick for attorney general following the surprise resignation of Attorney General Craig Richards last week.
At a news conference in Anchorage, Walker said he was inspired by Lindemuth’s pro-bono work in helping free Fairbanks Four member George Frese when making his decision, noting that she was already well-regarded after her recent application to the Alaska Supreme Court.
“I was very taken by her commitment in that, the amount of pro-bono work she did,” he said. “That told me about her commitment to serve Alaska. That really was an unusual situation for a firm to do what they did, for her to do what she did.”
The official statement accompanying the announcement notes that Lindemuth put more than 950 hours of personal work into pro-bono cases last year.
Frese was one of four young men who were convicted of the 1997 murder of teenager John Hartman on a downtown street corner. The men maintained their innocence through the years, claiming racial bias drove police and prosecutors to overlook alibis and other evidence that supported their innocence to win the convictions. Three of the four men, including Frese, are Alaska Native.
“That case was one of the most meaningful legal work I’ve ever done in my life and I’m really truly honored to be a part of that case,” she said at the conference. “I truly believe in the innocence of those men and I’m really happy they’re out of prison now and enjoying life like the rest of us.”
The state released the men from prison after a lengthy and bitter five-week hearing late last year where the state continued to defend the convictions against claims a different group of young men killed Hartman. The release was part of a deal with the state that gained the dismissal of the original indictments, barred the four from bringing civil action against the state or others involved in the case, but that stopped short of winning a court declaration of actual innocence. The state also maintains it did nothing wrong in winning the convictions.
When asked how the experience in that case will inform her service as the head of the Department of Law, Lindemuth said it will be important to keep their role as public servants in mind.
“I’m truly committed to justice for all Alaskans. I think keeping in mind that there are real people involved in every decision that gets made is important,” she said. “We’re all public servants, everyone working for the Department of Law is a public servant, and I think if we keep that in mind and make the best legal calls we can, we’ll have a better justice system for it.”
Lindemuth will begin the position in August but will need to be confirmed by the Legislature.
Lindemuth was one of the applicants for the Alaska Supreme Court following the retirement of Justice Dana Fabe. She will be just the second woman appointed as Alaska's attorney general.
Currently, Lindemuth is a partner at Dorsey & Whitney, LLP, and is the head of its Anchorage office. The firm devoted four attorneys to the Fairbanks Four case. Other clients Lindemuth worked with while at the firm include Cook Inlet Region, Inc., Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and ConocoPhillips Alaska.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.