Passing of Senior District Judge James A. von der Heydt


It is my sad duty to report the death of Senior District Judge James A. von der Heydt of the District of Alaska. Judge von der Heydt died Sunday, December 1, 2013, in Anchorage. He was 94.

Nominated by President Johnson, Judge von der Heydt was confirmed by the Senate on October 20, 1966, and received his judicial commission on November 3, 1966. He served as chief judge of his court from 1973 to 1984. He assumed senior status on July 15, 1984.

Born in Miles City, Montana, Judge von der Heydt was fascinated by Alaska throughout his youth. He received his B.A. from Albion College in 1942 and his J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law in 1951.

Judge von der Heydt is considered a legend by the Alaska legal community. He came to Alaska while it was still a territory, serving as a deputy U.S. Marshal from 1945 to 1948. After obtaining his law degree, he served as a commissioner of the U.S. District Court for the Alaska Territory in 1951, and as the U.S. Attorney for the territory, from 1951 to 1953.

After leaving government service in 1953, Judge von der Heydt went into private practice in Nome, Alaska. He was elected to the last territorial House of Representatives from 1957 to 1959. After Alaska was granted statehood in 1959, he was among the first judges to be appointed to the Alaska Superior Court, where he served as presiding judge from 1959 to 1966.

Judge von der Heydt served as president of the Alaska Bar Association from 1959 to 1960, and was a member of the Inns of Court. He was a founding member and first president of the Anchorage Fine Arts Museum Association, and also served on the Anchorage Municipal Fine Arts Commission for 21 years.

Judge von der Heydt is survived by his beloved wife of 61 years, Verna, and a number of nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held on Friday, December 6, 2013, at 2 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Anchorage, followed the next day by internment at Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery.

Memorial donations may be made to the Collections Fund of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, 121 West Seventh Avenue, Anchorage, AK 99501.

Condolences may be sent to Verna von der Heydt, 333 M Street, Apt. 411, Anchorage, AK 99501. 

- Chief Judge Alex Kozinski