Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Single judge could serve Skagway and Haines


September 7, 2017

Haines District Court may have a resident magistrate again, according to Alaska Court System representatives.

Clayton Jones, rural court assistant who provides administrative support for the First Judicial District, said Tuesday that the court system’s longtime goal is to have a magistrate judge stationed in Haines who will also serve Skagway and Yakutat by phone.

Jones and Wrangell Magistrate Judge Chris Ellis hosted a meeting to hear from the residents about how to improve rural court services.

When Magistrate John Hutchins retired last year, the Alaska Court System announced the position would be filled by Yakutat Magistrate Judge Mary Kay Germain who would fly to Haines for one week per month and cover other cases by phone. Retired District Court Judge and Haines resident Linn Asper said he wasn’t satisfied with the intermittent coverage and came out of retirement.

Asper originally signed on to work in the Haines District Court until the end of the fiscal year in June, but extended his stay through June 2018.

Skagway magistrate Susan Reed retired in July, sparking a need for judicial service in both Upper Lynn Canal communities. Jones said the court system is considering hiring for clerical assistance in Skagway and Yakutat.

“A sitting judge, a presiding judge, lives a community, and that is necessary from my point of view,” said Haines Borough Police Chief Heath Scott at the meeting.

Jones was unable to give a timeline on when a new judge might be hired. He said he would bring feedback from the meeting to Presiding Judge for the First Judicial District, Trevor Stephens.

Asper said the timeline hinges on if the state Legislature doles out more budget cuts to the Alaska Court System, which has voluntarily taken 3 percent cuts for the last several years to ease the shortfall.

Scott said he is fearful when Asper decides not to preside over the court.

“Having a judge represent this community over the phone hurts this community. And I believe it hurts the scales of justice,” Scott said.

He said a judge who is making decisions that largely affect the community should live there.

In cases where phone communication is needed, Scott, Mayor Jan Hill and resident Bill McCord all said there should be better video software to allow for face-to-face communication between defendants, lawyers and judges.

“There’s nothing better than face to face, but realistically we’re running behind the game because we’re not as up to speed with the technology that’s available to us,” Hill said. “I think that we need to be getting in line and making that happen here.” She referenced the telemedicine program used at the local SEARHC clinic.

“We’d love to help bridge that gap,” Jones said.

Scott also suggested the court system create informational videos to instruct citizens on steps to take in getting a protective order or using other court services.

Borough manager Debra Schnabel suggested the court system better advertise the services it has available like civil debt collection or notarizations.


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