Joint court planning progresses

Progress is being made on an experimental joint court coming to the Kenai Peninsula.

Announced in October, the court will be a partnership between the Kenaitze Indian Tribe and the Alaska Court System. Kim Sweet, the chief judge for the tribe, and Kenai Superior Court Judge Anna Moran will hear cases together in the new program targeted toward substance abusers and those facing lengthy felony sentences.

The program, slated to launch in March, has been a long time coming according to Moran and Sweet.

“We have wanted to have a therapeutic-style court in the Kenai area for several years,” Moran said, adding that funding fell through the last time a similar effort was made. “It’s a way work collaboratively together to solve a very serious problem in our community.”

After some guidance from groups that have created similar joint court systems, the state and tribe built the new program’s specific needs into the framework they were given. The system will work with community partners focused on healing, recovery and providing tools to addicts to succeed in the future, Sweet said.

Those deemed eligible for the court will have to agree to commit to the program, which spans a minimum of 18 months, Sweet said. Their cases will be heard by both judges at the same time. Though the court location will alternate between the tribal and state court, its format will remain therapeutic and intimate, Sweet said.

Therapeutic court differs from state court in that it focuses more on healing, Sweet said, in accordance with the tribe’s established values.

“Definitely the boarding school era and everything put a huge barrier up for families,” Sweet said. “It changed the way culture is viewed. I mean, it took away a lot of the cultural norms for families. … Children are there to support the elders and vice versa, and that was broken, and it wasn’t too long ago.”

Therapeutic court systems function to help uncover reasons behind how a person has evolved to the point at which the court is meeting them, while still holding that person accountable for their actions, Sweet said.

The tribe plans to hire its own probation officer with the addition of the program, she said.

The joint court will take referrals from the District Attorney’s office for people identified as a good fit for the program. Sweet said she and Moran are mainly looking for those facing felony charges for substance abuse, those also involved with Child in Need of Aid cases, and those facing lengthy jail time.

“We need to be community minded, we need to support each other in this movement against substance abuse,” Sweet said. “It’s affecting all ages, all races in our population right now in our community, and it’s gross … what it is doing to our community.”

One of the system’s largest challenges will fall on the judges when it comes to juggling their tight schedules. Moran, who already splits her time between Kenai and Homer court, said it will be a matter of fitting more work into her existing time. Sweet said she will transition from being in court two to three times a month to the weekly hearings the joint program will require.

The ultimate goal is for the system to serve as an example that can be picked up and implemented in different communities, Sweet said.

The project’s team will soon review final edits to the program’s handbook, Sweet said. Moran said the team is waiting for a memorandum of understanding from the Attorney General before moving forward to the program’s next steps.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

Dr. Kim Thiele stands by a wall of newspaper clippings and images of family members and precursors in his office near Kenai on Monday. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
‘A ministry for me’

Kalifornsky doctor wraps up career after 44 years

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, listens to testimony during a Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday in Juneau. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman game seizure bill received warmly in Senate committee

Of the roughly 150 animals the department takes each year, an average of between one and two are determined to be wrongfully seized

A collage of photos of Nikiski North Star Elementary students taking swimming lessons at the Nikiski Pool. (Photo collages provided by Nikiski North Star Elementary)
Community effort puts 200 Nikiski North Star students through swimming lessons

The lessons covered “everything,” from basic flotation to constructing rough-but-functional life jackets out of clothing

From left, Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, hugs Rep. Stanley Wright, R-Anchorage, after House passage of sweeping education legislation while Rep. Maxine Dibert, D-Fairbanks, watches on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
House passes BSA increase, with other education provisions

The bill now goes back to the Senate, where lawmakers must approve the bill as-is before it can head to the governor’s desk

Rep. Justin Ruffridge speaks about
House considers, rejects multiple school funding amendments during Wednesday floor debate

Over several hours, lawmakers considered six different increases in the Base Student Allocation to public schools

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan addresses members of the Alaska Legislature in the House chambers on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dismissing critics, Sullivan touts LNG project

During his annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday, the U.S. senator said state leaders should be doing everything they can to make the project successful

From left, Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, east side setnetter Ken Coleman and Konrad Jackson present information about a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for east side setnet fishery permits during a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Senate committee hears setnet buyback bill

The East Side of Cook Inlet Set Net Fleet Reduction Act is sponsored by Nikiski Sen. Jesse Bjorkman

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of debating an omnibus education bill in the Alaska House Chambers on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Tie vote kills early House debate on education funding

Lawmakers went into an hourslong recess that ended with adjournment until Tuesday morning

Most Read