Alaska chief justice calls for computer security upgrade

Joel Bolger, chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, delivers the annual State of the Judiciary address to the Alaska Legislature, Feb. 20, 2019. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger said the state court system must upgrade computer security after the court in Nome lost computer access for days due to a virus. Bolger made this comment during the annual State of the Judiciary address to the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday.

Bolger said the incident in Nome shows the state needs to do more to prevent privacy breaches.

“Our staff was able to contain the problem quickly, and we narrowly avoided huge statewide losses,” he said.

Bolger also said he has a goal of making changes to shorten the time it takes for cases to be resolved.

“It will take some time to change current systems and habits, but I’m encouraged that we’re taking this on, and I’m hopeful that we will ultimately shorten these pretrial delays,” Bolger said.

Bolger said the courts are important in many ways, including for businesses.

“In a free market economy, it is important for businesses to be able to consistently forecast their risks in order to make reasonable investment decisions,” he said. “This means that statutes and regulations have to be interpreted reasonably.”

The chief justice affirmed the courts’ role in protecting rights.

“In a democracy that’s based on majority rule, it’s important that laws be interpreted fairly and reasonably,” he said. “The disadvantaged may need protection from the powerful. Those in a temporary minority may need protection from ideas that seize momentary popularity.”

The judiciary’s request for state funding increased by $3.5 million, to $105 million for the fiscal year that begins in July.

Bolger says the courts originally planned to only ask for more money this year to cover areas where costs increased. The judiciary added a funding request based on Gov. Michael Dunleavy’s public support to have courts reopen on Friday afternoons.

The court system also is requesting that two courts with only one judge should have their positions upgraded from District Court judges to Superior Court judges, who can handle higher-level cases. The District Court judges are retiring in Valdez and Homer, and Bolger says now is a good time to make the changes.

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Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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