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Karen Hunt has been a pioneer in the Alaska legal world, in her own career as the first woman from Anchorage appointed to serve as a Superior Court Judge (1984-2000), as an educator and innovator in the practice of the law and as a leader of women in the law and in the community. She has been recognized and honored by the bar, the bench and the community for her leadership and achievements through awards such as: the Alaska Supreme Court Community Service Award (2000); the Alaska Bar Association Public Service Award (1994); Anchorage YWCA Woman of Achievement (1992); Anchorage Chamber of Commerce ATHENA Society (2007); University Medal, Alaska Pacific University (2009); and, Alaska ACLU Liberty Award (2010).
Hunt received her B.A. from the University of Nebraska, Kearney (1961) and an M.A in English from California State College, Los Angeles (1968). Prior to practicing law, she taught high school English in Nebraska and California. In 1973 Hunt graduated in the top 10 percent of her class at the USC Law School (one of 11 women), served on the law review and was awarded the Order of the Coif. She arrived in Alaska in 1973, with her four stepchildren, to join her husband and was one of the first two women hired by Anchorage’s largest law firm. Missing the collegiality of her female law school classmates, she decided to invite all 25 women attorneys practicing in Anchorage to lunch. Despite concerns that male members of the bench and bar might take affront, this informal group continued to meet for a monthly luncheon. After several years, the group organized as the Anchorage Association of Women Lawyers (AAWL), with Hunt serving as president for two terms. To raise funding for the organization and to promote recognition of the city’s practicing women attorneys, she designed a course for credit at UAA entitled “Women and the Law,” which she and the other women attorneys taught (1978-82). All income was donated to the AAWL.
Recognized as a leader by her peers, Hunt was one of the first two women elected to the Board of Governors of the Alaska Bar Association in 1977. Later, serving as president, she presided over the completion of the effort to revise the Alaska Bar Exam, which became a model bar exam in the country. In later years she was elected president of the Anchorage Bar Association and then of the Alaska Conference of Judges – the only person to have been elected as president of all four professional organizations. She has also served in national legal associations: the first Alaskan to be elected to the Board of Directors, National Association of Women Judges and vice chair of its foundation; American Bar Association Special Committee on Lawyers Liability; and Advisory Council for Masters of Judicial Studies, University of Nevada (Reno).
During her tenure as judge, Hunt initiated various institutional reforms in effect today: revising procedures, forms and administrative structures affecting the practice of both civil and criminal law. As an example, when presiding over a prison reform class action lawsuit, her rulings led to the establishment of a women’s prison in Alaska. Though she had shifted her professional career from high school English teacher to the legal world, she continued to be an educator throughout her years as attorney and judge and continuing into today’s retirement. Her specialty is judicial writing which she has taught to trial, appellate and administrative judges throughout this country and abroad. Over the years, Hunt has taught a variety of continuing-education legal courses. In 1989 she was one of the first few women invited to join the faculty of the National Judicial College, which is the national center for the training of state court judges. Her 1994 presentation on evidence is included in the 10 state continuing legal education “Masters of the Courtroom” videotape. In 2005-06, Hunt trained more than 200 administrative law judges appointed to the federal Medicare appeals agency where her model decision format was adopted as the template for all agency decisions. It has also been recommended for use by all judges of the federal Board of Patents and Interferences and the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Recently, Hunt provided conflict-resolution training to more than 1,700 state employees throughout Alaska. She also assisted in the training of union stewards and supervisors. She has taught contract law to judges in Russia and criminal law and procedure to judges from Bulgaria to Nigeria. Hunt clearly enjoys teaching and credits her success to her ability to help people “to connect the dots.”
Arriving during the years when oil money was first flowing, she found Anchorage to be full of opportunities for residents to engage in civic activities and create needed organizations. In particular, she was impressed by Alaska women’s energy, boldness and independence. Hunt actively participated in efforts to train and organize women, Democrats and Republican alike, to become more visible as a presence in political action and to run for public office. These efforts led to the election of the first women to the Anchorage Assembly, to both houses of the Alaska Legislature and to appointments to high level positions and, eventually, to the founding of the Anchorage Women’s Political Caucus.
As a member of Soroptimist International of Anchorage, she focused efforts on raising scholarship money for both young women and mature women wishing to return to higher education. She led the organization as president in 1979 and received its prized “Women Helping Women” award in 2001. From 2000-03, Hunt helped create the Gold Torch Society at her alma mater, University of Nebraska, Kearney, wherein 20 junior and senior undergraduate women interact with successful professional female alumnae from throughout the country for a weekend retreat. During her years in Anchorage, Hunt has served as a member of the board of directors and/or officer of a number of very diverse community organizations, from Commonwealth North (twice president), APU Board of Trustees, Municipality of Anchorage Arts Council, Anchorage Opera, Alaska Public Telecommunications Inc., KAKM radio and the Anchorage Concert Association. Hunt has also served on the advisory councils for Providence Health Care System, Cyrano’s Theatre and currently co-chairs the Anchorage Senior Activities Center Advisory Council. Additionally, starting in 1986 she has provided training throughout the state on individual board member’s rights and responsibilities. She has trained a large variety of non-profit boards such as hospitals, real estate groups, environmental groups, Native corporations and art organizations.
Looking over her varied career, a common thread appears to underlie Hunt’s career as teacher, lawyer, judge and community leader: a concern with equity in our society. For example, as a young high school English teacher in California, she requested a transfer after the 1965 riots in Watts to an African-American high school in Watts to work as a teacher and counselor. Taken under the wing of a group of veteran teachers, she was tutored on black teen culture so that she could relate to the students and their parents and be able to create innovative counseling and enhancement programs of value to them. This same concern pervades her community interests from her involvement in women’s issues and political power to serving on a committee of the First Alaskan’s Institute seeking to foster community dialogues on issues of racial equity in Alaska.
Hunt was raised by a strong mother who allowed her children to explore the world on their own, to be responsible for fixing any problems they created and always to be mindful of the effect of their actions on others. Her mother frequently admonished her children: “Well, you just don’t treat people that way.” Clearly, this guidance has informed and guided Hunt’s life, career and community involvement.
Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/wMWvofsi5A4