JUNEAU — Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe on Wednesday stressed the importance of working with tribal courts and the need to maintain rural access to the court system during her annual address to lawmakers.
Fabe, who is in her third term, delivered her State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature.
The court system, like other state agencies, is looking at budget cuts for the coming year, Fabe said.
Fabe said the court system is eyeing operational changes to cut costs, but some measures could take time to implement. She noted the importance of maintaining a presence in rural Alaska, despite any cuts.
“This will likely be our greatest challenge, to resist the financial pressures to centralize our operations in hub communities and insist that Alaskans come to those hubs for justice, or do without,” Fabe said.
She also talked about new rules that define procedures for referring cases to local restorative justice programs and tribal courts’ role in making decisions on tribal children.
Fabe said the court system also has worked on referring cases involving minors charged with consuming alcohol to local panels in Kenai, Sitka and Cordova, and more of that work is planned.
Using local programs can improve outcomes for youth and other offenders by maintaining a community focus that integrates local wisdom and cultural norms into the process, she said. Use of local programs is also a possible source of cost savings for the state, she said.
Fabe also talked about work that’s been done in the past year to improve elder services and better handle child custody issues.
A custody determination system that is more collaborative and less adversarial can benefit children and families, she said. To that aim, the court system uses an early resolution program to avoid trials where possible, and is working on simpler court system when trials are necessary.
Alaska’s aging population has necessitated a focus on elder issues, and Fabe said she has convened a task force to recommend improvements to elder services, referencing the need for conservatorships and preventing elder abuse.
Fabe also noted that she was addressing the Legislature on the 50th anniversary of former Chief Justice Jay Rabinowitz’s appointment to the state Supreme Court.
Rabinowitz, Fabe said, was focused on developing a judicial system that provided justice for all citizens, a goal that the state still strives toward.