Lawsuit on officer-involved shooting has been dismissed

The plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit dropped its lawsuit against all of the defendants: City and Borough of Juneau, Juneau Police Department Chief Ed Mercer, and JPD Officer James Esbenshade. The Estate of Kelly Michael Stephens, plaintiff, and the defendants filed a joint stipulation of dismissal in federal court on December 2. The federal court dismissed the entire lawsuit on December 4, 2020.

“I extend my heartfelt sympathy to the friends and family of Mr. Stephens,” City Manager Rorie Watt said. “Every day we ask our police officers to navigate extremely difficult situations and, infrequently, an officer will find themselves in a situation where they use their service weapon. Last December, I asked the community to be patient, and to let the external reviews, internal reviews, and the independent judiciary handle this matter. Those processes have all concluded. I thank the community for its patience.”

Last year, while responding to a report of a disturbance with gunshots fired, Juneau Police Officer Esbenshade was confronted by Kelly Stephens, who threatened to kill Officer Esbenshade. After giving warnings and attempting to retreat, Officer Esbenshade shot Mr. Stephens, who was pronounced deceased shortly after.

Following an investigation of the officer-involved shooting, the State of Alaska Office of Special Prosecutions wrote in a March 6, 2020 letter that the State of Alaska would not bring criminal charges against Officer Esbenshade because it found the officer’s actions legally justified. On July 1, 2020, Kelly Stephens’ parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against the City of Borough of Juneau and members of the Juneau Police Department.

Now, the joint stipulation dismisses the case with prejudice, which means the case is completely resolved. There is no settlement agreement, no exchange of money, and no liability on any of the defendants. Each party is responsible for its own costs.

The death of Kelly Stephen remains a tragic event. The City and Borough of Juneau and the Juneau Police Department continue to extend its condolences to the family and friends of Kelly Stephens.

For more information, contact City Manager Rorie Watt at 586-5240 or; or Municipal Attorney Robert Palmer at 586-5242 or


December 9th, 2020|

Assembly resolutions dating back to 1989 now searchable online

If you’re looking for a resolution passed by the Juneau Assembly in the past three decades, you can find it online thanks to Nick Bursell. Nick started working for CBJ’s Law Department in October. At that point, the resolutions online only went back to about 2017. Now, you can find resolutions as far back as 1989. Nick uploaded about 1,300 resolutions to the CBJ website. You can find them by going to, clicking on the Assembly button, and in the Documents drop down menu, click “Adopted Legislation.”

“It’s a win-win for the city and the people of Juneau. CBJ doesn’t have to field requests and find physical files; when people need to find this stuff, they can just go online. And we have a PDF ready and available for download or printing,” Nick said.

The ongoing project is done in phases. There’s the physical scanning of the paper copies, next is the naming of the files so they’re searchable in an internal database, then making each document ADA-compliant, and finally uploading the resolutions to the website.

“I started reading the actual resolutions and there’s some really interesting stuff. You can get a good picture on the sort of flow of history just by doing this project,” Nick said.

Nick, originally from Juneau, is a recent grad of University of Alaska Southeast. Sadly, his last day at CBJ was Friday. CBJ thanks Nick for his work on this project and wishes him luck as he takes on a position with the Washington State Legislature. Whoever takes over the project can pick up where Nick left off – uploading Juneau Assembly resolutions dating all the way back to CBJ’s inception in 1970 that Nick has already scanned. After resolutions, it’s onto ordinances pre-2017.

January 6th, 2020|

Judge to issue decision later in lawsuit between CBJ & cruise ship association

Federal District Court Judge H. Russel Holland held a hearing this morning in Juneau related to the lawsuit between the City and Borough of Juneau and the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). Due to the complexity of the case, the judge is taking the case under advisement and will issue a decision later.

The lawsuit started in the spring of 2016 when CLIA alleged CBJ was unconstitutionally spending fees collected from cruise ship passengers. CBJ denied the allegations. CBJ believes it has spent passenger fees in a constitutional manner. Over the past two years, the parties have engaged in discovery and filed motions to narrow the issues for trial or resolve the lawsuit.

Today, attorneys for both sides argued their positions and responded to questions from Judge Holland. CLIA argued that passenger fees can only be used for projects that physically touch and solely benefit the vessel. CLIA also argued that passenger fees cannot be used for services that benefit the cruise ship passengers. CBJ disagreed and reiterated that the U.S. Constitution allows passenger fees to be used when they benefit the vessel or the passengers, like docks for the cruise ships, restrooms on or near the docks, crossing guards downtown, emergency ambulance services, as examples.

Following oral arguments this morning, Judge Holland didn’t make any decision on the matter. He said he would take the case under advisement, suggesting it would take a while to issue a decision because of the complexity of the case.

For more information, contact CBJ Municipal Attorney Robert Palmer at 586-0909 or For background documents, please go here.

September 18th, 2018|

Assembly selects Robert Palmer to be next Municipal Attorney​

The City and Borough of Juneau is pleased to announce that Robert Palmer is the new Municipal Attorney. The Juneau Assembly selected him during the August 29 Special Assembly meeting. The position recently became vacant when former CBJ municipal attorney Amy Mead was appointed to be Juneau Superior Court Judge.

Palmer has been a CBJ Assistant Attorney since 2014. In that role, he provided legal counsel to multiple city departments and the Planning Commission, negotiated complex contracts, and litigated a variety of property, personal injury, and tax cases. He’s well-versed in CBJ issues and is excited to work more closely with the Assembly.

“I am committed to public service and am looking forward to the challenge of filling the void left with Amy Mead’s recent appointment to the Juneau Superior Court. I enjoy the blend of legal work at the CBJ and helping the municipality find solutions to its legal questions,” Palmer said.

CBJ’s municipal attorney is supervised by the Assembly. Following Mead’s appointment to the bench, the job was widely advertised. After applying and being identified as a candidate, Palmer went through a pre-interview and background check process with CBJ’s Human Resources Department. He was interviewed by the full Assembly during a Special Assembly Meeting August 28. Palmer will be paid an annual salary of $140,000.

“Robert has a firm grasp on present litigation, current community issues and has worked with city departments, enterprise boards, and the school district. He has also built solid relationships with fellow employees in the Law Department and has a vision to utilize everyone’s strengths,” Mayor Ken Koelsch said.

Prior to coming to Juneau, Palmer worked for a private law firm in the Seattle area. He also had a diverse career prior to practicing law. For more than 10 years, Palmer worked at a large ski area managing a ski patrol program in the winters. In the summers, he worked for the National Park Service as a park ranger, a law enforcement officer, and as a wildland firefighter supervising a 20-person crew.

For more information, contact Human Resources Director Dallas Hargrave at 586-0225 or

August 30th, 2018|