Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct that Chief Tribal Court Judge Kim Sweet signed a memorandum of understanding in Fairbanks on Thursday along with representatives from the Department of Law and Alaska Court System. Kenai Superior Court Judge Anna Moran was present for the signing.
A joint court between the Kenaitze Indian Tribe and the Alaska Court System that will take a therapeutic approach to defendants is one step closer to starting up on the Kenai Peninsula.
The Henu’ Community Wellness Court was announced last October and has been a long time coming according to the two judges who will participate in it.
The tribe’s Chief Tribal Judge Kim Sweet and Kenai Superior Court Judge Anna Moran, who will hear cases together in the joint court, were in Fairbanks on Thursday for the signing of a government-to-government memorandum of understanding that will support the system’s formation, according to a release from the tribe. Sweet signed the memorandum along with representatives from the Alaska Court System and Department of Law.
“It means that we don’t have to waive sovereign immunity in order to start this court,” Sweet said.
Sweet said the memorandum was a factor in the program being approved to go forward. A team of people working on the joint court have been crafting a manual for how it will run, she said, which had to go to the Attorney General after it was finalized.
“They approved it based on this government-to-government memorandum of understanding,” she said.
There is no set date for the new court to begin taking cases, Sweet said, though project managers from the Alaska Court System and the tribe will begin working with court clerks in November to make sure coordinating the extra cases goes smoothly. Both judges will hear cases from the therapeutic court in addition to their current workloads.
The new probation officer the tribe hired to help work the joint court will start on Oct. 31, Sweet said.
Eligible defendants will be identified and forwarded to the joint court by the Kenai District Attorney’s office.
Moran and Sweet have said in previous Clarion interviews that the joint court will seek to enroll defendants facing charges related to substance abuse, those involved with Child in Need of Aid cases and those facing lengthy felony sentences. Those who agree to enter the program must remain in it for at least 18 months while Moran and Sweet hear their case and work with community partners to connect the defendants with resources that will help them heal or recover.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance under the U.S. Department of Justice gave training and other assistance to the team working on the program to help design and implement it, according to the release.
“This has been a long time in the making,” Moran is quoted as saying in the release. “The Kenai court and the Kenaitze court have worked collaboratively for several years. Both courts have a deep commitment to their community and to resolving the substance abuse issues that affect the well-being of our community. The dual jurisdiction court will be an important resource for our community because it will allow Kenai to provide a therapeutic court to its community struggling with addiction and other issues.”
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.