Chief Justice: Technology helps, but local courts are key

Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe, left, speaks with Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, after delivering the State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Joshua Berlinger)

JUNEAU — Technology has allowed the Alaska court system to continue its mission to be fair and accessible to the state’s residents, but Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe told lawmakers on Wednesday that local or tribal courts remain key to the process in rural areas.

Fabe, in her State of the Judiciary address, said local courts can provide cultural insight and a sense of community that other courts can’t.

“For many isolated villages, the simple reality is that early intervention for tribal members is often more likely to come from local tribal courts than from state courts that are miles away,” she said.

Fabe used a good portion of her speech to discuss the importance of bringing Alaska’s judicial system to places that are difficult to access.

“The difficulty and disruption entailed in linking sparsely populated communities to our justice system continued across the last century and through the time of statehood, when the Alaska Court System was first established,” Fabe said.

“Quite simply, for courts to effectively serve the needs of rural residents, justice cannot be something delivered in a far off court by strangers, but something in which local people — those most intimately affected — can be directly and meaningfully involved.”

She said today’s technology and the judicial branch’s dedication to self-improvement have helped reshape the justice system “in a manner that has served Alaskans well.”

She also highlighted actions to establish early intervention efforts that help ensure positive outcomes in cases like divorce and custody disputes.

The chief justice has traditionally addressed both chambers of the Legislature on an annual basis since 1972. Fabe took over as chief justice last year.

Fabe, the first woman to serve on Alaska’s highest court, lauded Gov. Sean Parnell for considering diversity, gender and ethnic and racial equality when making appointments to the bench.

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