Scot Leaders was not expecting the offer for the position of district attorney.
But when previous Kenai District Attorney Lance Joanis left to take a position with the attorney general’s office, working on child-in-need-of-aid cases, state Attorney General John Burns offered Leaders the position.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Leaders said. “And I didn’t anticipate Mr. Joanis leaving.”
Leaders now handles the state’s legal proceedings for the Kenai Peninsula, taking over as district attorney in August.
His duties include managing the prosecutor’s office, investigating alleged crimes in cooperation with law enforcement and filing criminal charges or bringing evidence before a jury that may lead to an indictment for a crime.
Leaders has been with the office for 12 years, working as an assistant district attorney before taking the top position.
Joanis worked with Leaders for three years. He said recognized Leaders’ skills as a trial attorney during that time.
“He also has a lot of experience in prosecution, and specifically in prosecution on the Kenai Peninsula,” Joanis said.
Having grown up in southern Michigan, Leaders began his undergraduate studies at Hillsdale College. The liberal arts college is known for being the first American college to prohibit in its charter all discrimination based on race, religion, or sex; its refusal of government funding; and its monthly publication, Imprimis.
In 1988, Leaders’ family moved to Alaska, around the time he enrolled at Hillsdale. Leaders joined his family after graduation, but it wasn’t long before he was pursuing an advanced degree.
He received his law degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1997, and he has been prosecuting for the state of Alaska ever since.
Leaders practiced his first six months of law at the Anchorage district attorney’s office.
In 2004, Leaders spent a year doing prosecutions for the office of special prosecutions and appeals in Anchorage. The rest of his professional career has been spent in Kenai.
There are major differences between the offices of Anchorage and Kenai, he said.
“Kenai is a very busy office,” he said. “There’s a higher (caseload) volume for attorneys.”
The biggest difference, however, is the broader range of cases worked on.
“In Anchorage, the attorneys, because of the size of the office, they’re able to specialize, especially at felony levels,” he said. “In Kenai, we prosecute anything from a marijuana procession to a homicide. You have a greater range of cases to handle.”
Leaders has worked on a number of high-profile cases for the Peninsula.
He was the prosecuting attorney in the case against Robert Hancock earlier this year. Hancock led Police on a high-speed chase ending in a collision. During the sentencing Leaders voiced his opinion that the sentencing was light, considering both the matter at hand and Hancock’s prior criminal history.
In 2007, he was involved in the prosecution of Barry McCormick. McCormick was sentenced to 99 years in prison for a 20-year-old murder. Following conviction in spring 2006, Leaders told the Clarion that the jury’s quick decision showed the state had a strong case, and he credited the hard work of law enforcement officers.
The changing of the guard can cause a shift in office operations, as prosecutors subscribe to different philosophies. Joanis contends that Leaders and himself are different, but they share a commitment to serve the people of the Peninsula.
“There’s an additional ethical duty on prosecutors that other attorneys don’t have. ... It says that prosecutors are administers of justice; they’re not merely advocates,” Joanis said. “Prosecutors have to determine what would be just in any given situation as opposed to just trying to win, and Scot certainly embodies that.”
Leaders has no plans to make major changes in the way the office operates.
Ongoing trials will not be affected by the change, Leaders said. He plans to maintain the majority of his cases with a few being reassigned. The schedules of the cases will not change.
The lead prosecutor is also highly involved with the hiring of staff, but the office is currently not hiring, as Leaders’ previous position has already been filled.