Fabe stresses prevention, rural justice initiatives

Chief Justice Dana Fabe addresses a joint session in Juneau on Feb. 13, 2012. (Image courtesy Gavel Alaska)

Chief Justice Dana Fabe addresses a joint session in Juneau on Feb. 13, 2012. (Image courtesy Gavel Alaska)

Bringing justice to all Alaskans – that was the major theme of Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe’s speech at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Fabe stressed the importance of preventative approaches to improve outcomes for participants in the justice system and taxpayers.

She said an early resolution program to settle divorce cases quickly has handled over 400 cases in the past two years, with more than 80 percent settled after just one proceeding.

“Disputes that are resolved early are disputes that no longer fill our case load,” she said.

Fabe gave special attention to rural Alaska. She spoke of courthouses opening in communities like Aniak and Hooper Bay, and efforts the state judicial branch has made to coordinate with tribal courts in domestic and youth cases.

But the speech wasn’t all congratulatory. Fabe said the state still needs to ensure that justice isn’t something delivered to villages by courts made of faraway strangers. She also said that there’s a problem when Alaska Native men and women occupy a third of the state’s prison beds.

“No matter how much we hear about the rural-urban divide, what happens in our rural areas concerns all of us and affects all of us,” said Fabe. “When lives in our rural communities are diminished by problems that have persisted for generations, we are all diminished”

The Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court is required to provide the legislature with an update on the judiciary system every year.

Fabe took over as head of the state’s high court from Justice Walter Carpeneti of Juneau, who retired earlier this year. It’s her second stint as Chief Justice, so the address was her seventh to the legislature.