This is a continuation of the interview with Judge Michael Jeffery on February 6, 2012 by Karen Brewster at Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This is a continuation of tape number Oral History 2012-02-06, Part 1 and Part 2. In this part of the intervew, Judge Jeffery talks about rural justice and tribal courts, role of magistrates, Alaska's system for retention of judges, and how to maintain balance in your life when you are a judge.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Judges of Alaska
Date of Interview: Feb 6, 2012
Narrator(s): Judge Michael Jeffery
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Challenges of being a rural court judge
Maintaining balance and not being too stressed by the job
Mentors and people who have been an inspiration
Being a non-Native judge in a mostly Native community
Alaska's system for retention of judges
Problem with retention and lawsuit filed over it
Retaining his position as Superior Court judge
Cases where ruling made has had a long-term impact
Tribal Court in Barrow
Effectiveness of Tribal Court
Learning to be a judge and improvements in training provided
Role of the magistrate
Handling juvenile delinquency and child welfare cases
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
KAREN BREWSTER: So now we talk about the stressors or what's been most challenging or most frustrating for you?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Right. Well, I'm so swamped all the time. I mean, I just feel swamped.
And like right now, you know, I made a decision, you know, in the last week to go to these -- to a couple of conferences on -- that involved Fetal Spectrum Disorder issues.
But on the other hand, I've got like legal work motions that need to be decided that are sitting there, you know, waiting for me.
And then you get back to the court, and you're slammed with all these hearings that they couldn’t do while you were out of town.
And so you get slammed with those when you come back and then when are you supposed to work on these legal issues that also need deciding.
Well, it turns out it might be nights and weekends, and when you try -- when, you know, when you're raising a family or my wife and I now - my kids are out of the house, but,
you know, there's, you know, there are times when I would like to be spending more time in the community or, you know, with family and stuff than I can because of the demands of the job.
And, of course, we are on call.
And in the bigger cities superior court judges do not -- this is not part of their life.
Because there's so much work that needs to be done along these lines that the court system hires people to do that.
You know, they're called committee magistrates like in Anchorage and they work 12 hour shifts and they're always available to do these things.
Well, like all over rural Alaska we are on call half the time.
I mean, the magistrate is on call part of the time.
The judge is on call part of the time.
We -- we use -- we train our law clerks as deputy magistrates, and they are -- they're on call once a month.
And when you're on call, you may -- you don’t know what your weekend's going to be like.
I mean, I call in at least Saturday morning and find out what's going on.
Sometimes nothing, great, and then I can maybe work on some of those motions or do other things.
But sometimes, "Well, Your Honor we got five." And I go " Oh five!" You know, you've got something like five cases. that's because there's -- you open up the courthouse, you -- you develop all the paper works, assign case numbers, take in the complaints.
And then hold the hearing, do the bail paper work after, distribute everything.
And even if you only have one or two cases, it's a couple hours and if you have five, you might be over there five or six hours on your Saturday and maybe on the Sunday and then go back to work Monday morning.
So that can get to be stressful. You know, you're working seven days a week.
You know, sometimes that happens and then also when you're on call, you're on call for the search warrants.
Now. what judicial officers face is nothing compared to what doctors or EMT’s face,
but nevertheless sometimes the phone rings at three a.m., and you got to go down to the court, and remember all the search and seizure law,
and do the best you can with this warrant,
and, you know, it's a very important part of the job when it's needed.
And then I look around, for example there are judges who somehow -- like there's judges all over the country, not many, but that are very much up to speed on this FASD issue,
and some of them are very active and they're starting organizations and they're doing all these things.
I'm just thinking I don’t have time to do that.
I mean, I can see -- I mean, I'm sitting there imagining yes, you know, I could do this. I could start committee meetings or I could go to schools more than I do or there're all these others things I could do,
but I just have to honor the fact, you know, I just don’t have the time.
And one thing that I wanted -- I wish we had in Barrow is a Youth Court.
I mean, that's something I've got a lot of information in my office about Youth Courts.
I've presented at Youth Court Conference once or twice.
I think it's a wonderful program, but I just can’t -- I can’t be the main person.
I'd be glad to help, but there's no one else at the moment that's ready to do that and so it's not happened.
And so there're frustrations like that.
KAREN BREWSTER: So how do you manage to create the balance and de-stress your life?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Well, I, you know, part of it is being active in other things.
I mean, when we're having, for example, Kivgiq is this Eskimo dance festival that we have like once every other -- one or every two or three years,
and it brings in dance groups from all over the Arctic and also like Canadian Arctic and Eastern Russia sometimes, too.
People have no idea what goes into this because the dance groups go to a lot of effort of developing new dances or developing --
bringing up ones from the past that they haven’t been doing for a while but now they are.
And the practices can last several hours, several times a week.
And there are times like if the group is practicing to go to an event out of town that I'm not going to, I usually just don’t go.
But Kivgiq is right there in Barrow and yeah, you just do it and so when you're there,
two or three hours, drumming and singing, you're not thinking, you're not, you know, this is something else than the legal biz.
So that's something.
And then, you know, we have a Rotary Club.
You know, there's a lot of things along with that that I'm involved with.
And then church activities and stuff.
And then I do some volunteering in the schools,
just, you know, just something I've been doing like reading to fifth graders once a week.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right.
JUDGE JEFFERY: For example, and then like a mentorship relationship with the middle school, or I go over there once a week with a number of students.
And so all of that is kind of keeping a balance.
I mean, if I -- if I were, you know, living alone, not involved in the community, going to work, going home, reading novels or watching TV or whatever I'd be doing,
it is -- it would be a lot harder to keep it together.
But the way it is now -- but the thing is you don’t have very much down time.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. You mentioned that you're mentoring students.
It makes me wonder who some of your mentors along the way may have been, people who've inspired you?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Right. Well, as I said we have to honor Vic Carlson at the beginning, because he took a lot of calls.
And that was a big help.
But, you know, we've already talked about our colleagues, you know, helping each other.
But, you know, there's certainly Jay Rabinowitz is one.
He, you know, he was based in Fairbanks and so he, you know, and as I said I mentioned -- I met him when I first came to Alaska.
But he had a level of not only of judicial -- of skill in and, you know, skill, but he also was compassionate and saw the big picture.
And I keep remembering one time he sent out like a memo or something like that to --
I think it went to all the judges or something, but he was talking about -- there was some either a federal case or a federal law, but it was going the wrong direction, you know.
It was -- it was dangerous.
It was a dangerous precedent in the country, sort of, and he alerted us to that.
And, you know, I just really, you know, he's kind of keeping his eye on the big picture as well as doing his work, you know.
So -- and it was so one time when Sadie Neakok was having her retirement, he flew up from Fairbanks to attend because they had had relationship for all these years, you know, and stuff.
So he came up, but we're standing in the buffet line and he kind of looks --
I happened to be behind him and he kind of turns to me and says "Well, counselor, you got anything for me to handle while I'm here in town?"
And, you know, again Legal Services attorney and I'm thinking, "Oh," you know, and then I thought "Yes, I actually have something."
There was like this woman that had a default divorce.
And so I told her, you know, he handled it, and I just called her up and I said you won’t believe this, you know.
And she can’t really appreciate, you know, how amazing this is, but she was divorced by a supreme court justice, you know.
But another one I'd really like to mention is Russell Holland.
He's a federal judge and now a senior status, but again a very humble person when you see him.
I mean, we have these judicial conferences and, you know, you see different people.
But also the opinions of his that I've read here is someone who is trying to communicate in a -- in an understandable way, you know, and I say "Well, yeah look he does that, too," you know.
So, you know, that's been an inspiration for me to try to do that.
And then, of course, in terms of the FASD issue what the Canadian judges are doing.
I mean, they're so far ahead of us in realizing the issue and trying to deal with it.
I mean, I'm just when I've gone to these conferences in Vancouver --
I'm hoping to go later this year to another one, but, you know, I'm the learner.
I'm just, you know, I have something I might share, but these guys are the experts, you know, so, anyway, yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: I'm wondering about your experience as a non-Native judge in a mostly Native community and how that's worked or hasn’t worked for you,
and if you felt you've had experiences with prejudice because of that?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Oh, it's worked for me, but again I was blessed with having already lived in Barrow for over five years before I became the judge.
I don’t know how it would have all played out if I'd have come in not knowing the community, but as it was I was already part of the community.
I was already in the church, and I was already doing a lot of these different things.
I was already in the dance group by that point.
And so, but I don’t forget that I'm -- that I was not born in Barrow.
That I am a non-Native and, but, you know, I'd lived in India for almost five years before I came to Barrow, you know, and I had lived, I didn’t mention earlier but I spent a summer in Hong Kong one summer on a volunteer program.
And especially in India and Hong Kong, you stand out.
You know, there is no doubt that you're, you know, a non-Native person or a Caucasian person in these environments and --
and so a lot of those kinds of issues, a lot of that -- a lot of that cross-cultural stuff had been burned out of me long before I came to Barrow.
And I mean, I think all that time in India, for example really helped in relating to getting along in Barrow.
And to value, you know, on the one hand value my upbringing and what I can contribute and so on,
but also realize that I'm not a local person, there's a lot of stuff I don’t know, and that's still true today.
And that to be humble, and just realize that's the situation and I'm not a local person.
I'm a long-time resident, but I'm not a local person and there is a difference.
As far as, you know, prejudice, I don’t, you know, we don’t -- that's not really something -- I wouldn’t -- that's something that I'm seeing.
It's just that I realize -- I mean, I honor and accept the fact that I'm not -- I wasn’t born there.
I know that and I need to be diffident and, you know, like we have the choir at the church, for example and, you know, I'm just part of the group and if there're some issues there, I'm letting other people take the lead, and so on.
So, yeah, that's the way that kind of plays out.
KAREN BREWSTER: I do know that at some point in your career you had a retention issue.
JUDGE JEFFERY: Oh, well, the legal case?
KAREN BREWSTER: That with you being retained as the judge, yes.
JUDGE JEFFERY: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Can you talk about that and what you think --
JUDGE JEFFERY: That had nothing to do with -- KAREN BREWSTER: It's not related, I know. JUDGE JEFFERY: Not related.
KAREN BREWSTER: It's a new question.
JUDGE JEFFERY: New question.
KAREN BREWSTER: About retention. JUDGE JEFFERY: Turn the page, right.
KAREN BREWSTER: About the retention process and what you think -- JUDGE JEFFERY: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: -- about it in the state, because I know you had personal experience?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Yeah, well, first of all, as far as the way that Alaska selects judges, I am such a fan. It's great.
When I -- I remember one time I was at the National Judicial College attending a course and there was a judge there from Miami.
She says, "I need to raise a million dollars every four years to keep my job," she tells me.
And I'm thinking to myself if there's anything like that, there's no way I'd do this job, you know.
And even at the conference where I just was, you know, there's in so many states, you know, there's a big political contest and everybody's raising money and where are you raising the money from?
From lawyers mostly and it's -- it's just not a good system.
Whereas, you know, here you apply, you get screened, names go to the governor but the governor has to pick from that list.
And then from then on, it's between you and not just your local community but the entire district.
So for me it's from the Canadian border all the way down to, you know, the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta.
I mean, the whole -- the Second Judicial District this huge land area.
And then, but it's just yes or no.
And so I'm not raising money for a campaign, you know.
I mean, you pay some fees and you'd have to pay some fees.
And every time you're on the ballot for retention you have to -- you have to go through this big process.
It's almost like being appointed again. You have to write essays about your term.
You have to give them the names of all the attorneys that have been involved in cases that you've had recently.
And then they send them letters.
KAREN BREWSTER: How often does a judge come up for retention?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Well, for superior court judges the first time is after four years and then every six years after that.
And so I've been on the ballot many times since 1982.
KAREN BREWSTER: And there was a case where there was a problem with that and there was a lawsuit? Can you --
JUDGE JEFFERY: Yeah, a little problem. And what it was is, I had done all of the hard stuff for being retained.
I think this was in the ’07 election. I'd done all the hard stuff.
We'd written the essay, did the -- did the names of the lawyers.
We did the -- all this things that you have to do.
They check your credit record. I'd done all that.
But, in addition to that you have to send in a one page form to the Division of Elections with, I think, $35 or whatever the fee is simply saying "Yes, I'd like to be on the ballot."
And I never send the form in.
And I've a very good reason why I didn’t the form in at the last minute, but I have no excuse for not having it sent it in several months in advance.
There is absolutely no reason that couldn’t have been done.
It happened at the moment just toward the deadline.
I was out of town actually with the church youth group out of state, and then I came back and we had a conference in Barrow right there.
I had files stacked all over the office and unfortunately I had gotten the reminder letter,
but the staff had buried it at the bottom of an about two foot high stack of files.
And so, it took me about a week or ten days before I'd worked through those files, and then I see this letter. I say, "Oh," you know. Then sent it in.
So I was on the phone with I mean, -- I -- I knew it was serious and on that Monday morning -- this was like on a Sunday that I saw this.
Monday morning I'm on the phone with an attorney and we're just trying to figure out what to do.
Well, there was a woman judge in Anchorage, too, that had the same problem.
And we kind of coordinated later, but at the beginning we weren’t, but basically what we both ended up doing is doing it late, you know.
I say sorry we missed the deadline. Here's my form. Here's my fee and I hope that, you know, this will be acceptable.
And the Division of Elections in both cases said, "No!"
And we will not put you on the ballot.
And, of course, if you're not on the ballot, you lose your job, so it's serious stuff.
So there were different ideas, you know.
One way I could have handled it would be to have said "Yeah, I messed up," you know, "and I'll just -- I just won’t be on the ballot and I'll try again to become reappointed."
But instead -- as she made us say, but instead we sued.
Our point was that look this is apples and oranges.
We're aware of the cases where the supreme court has said that you must be very strict about the deadline in elections, political elections, you know.
If you're five minutes late, you're too late.
And, of course, with political elections it's very important who's on the ballot.
You don’t know who it's going to be.
And, but our point was judicial elections this is not the case.
I mean, everybody knows who's going to be on the ballot, you know, who the judge is that's going to be running for retention.
And so if you're a little late, you shouldn’t -- you should be able to still put it to the voters.
And the voters, of course, if they don’t want someone to continue, can still vote someone out, but at least give them the chance.
So that was our basic point.
I mean, there are other arguments as well, and I won’t go into all those, but that was the basic point.
And, but our first point was put us on the ballot.
I mean, we can argue later about whether or not that should be honored,
but at least put us on the ballot so that we have at least the chance to keep our positions.
And the Division of Elections said, "No, we're not going to do it, because we gotten these firm directions," you know.
And so we filed, you know, the case and -- the cases and -- and it was -- I felt for the -- so hard for the superior court judge in Anchorage that had the case, you know.
I mean, it's a very hard position to be put in, but anyway we had oral argument, did the whole thing and he --
and that particular issue really was pretty clearly -- we had the better position.
I mean, yes you keep the status quo.
At least give them the chance to be on the ballot and then we'll sort it out later, you know, that's pretty clear and that's what he held.
And that was not appealed and we were on the ballot and, of course, we both got retained by a pretty significant margin.
So in other words the voters, you know, said yes, they should continue.
But as everybody realized we still needed to litigate the issues.
And so in the end, the superior court judge in Anchorage agreed with us that these are two different things.
And we should recognize that, and at least in this instance, maybe in the future it would be different, more notice or something like that, but at least in this instance,
you know, it should be allowed and particularly because even though we hadn’t sent in the form the Judicial Council since we'd gone through the whole process and she had also,
had given notice that we were cleared to be on the ballot way before the deadline.
So, you know, there's a lot of arguments there.
Well, the state appealed to the supreme court and, of course, in the meantime I'm still keeping the job, you know, it's still being litigated.
The woman judge in Anchorage did not -- decided to leave the bench.
She may have wanted to do that anyway, but, you know, I’m still, you know, was ready to continue serving in Barrow, you know.
So I continued working and it took again very hard.
This is a very hard issue for the supreme court to deal with, and it took them about a year.
And then finally they came down with a decision.
And I have actually -- I've talked to the justice who has since retired that wrote the decision, and I told -- I told him I so agree with the ruling.
They did the absolute right thing for the state, because what they said was those judges are fine judges.
They certainly can keep their job, you know, they can reapply and so on, but we're going to enforce this judge --
this law against judges as well as everybody else the same and they were late, end of story, they're not on the ballot.
And that is just what needed to be said.
I mean, we had our arguments and looking back on it as I say I, you know, it'd probably have been better to just not have gone through the whole thing.
It certainly was educational for me I mean, the whole process, but -- but I think it was the right decision that was made.
So how did that play out? Well, that means 90 days later I had to retire.
I mean, by law I was retired.
And so they -- we had a little retirement party there at the court.
It was very low key, because the reality was they needed somebody to be the judge in Barrow.
And I was going to reapply, and what's going to happen in the meantime? It's me.
KAREN BREWSTER: You're now acting judge.
JUDGE JEFFERY: Now pro-tem. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
JUDGE JEFFERY: So I was a pro-tem judge.
And so I learned and I had to make -- there are certain decisions when you're retiring that you make, and they made it very clear to me even if you're reappointed, no one knew for sure, but even if you're reappointed,
these are the, you know, you've made the decision about like some benefit plan or something like that.
You've made that decision and that stays with you.
So suddenly my wife and I are thinking, "Gee, do we need the long-term care insurance?" and all these kinds of things and so --
KAREN BREWSTER: You were what -- 55 or something at this point?
And you were not near retirement age?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Oh, no, no, no, no. I was no, but I was over 60.
I was more like 64 or somewhere in there. But, I mean, I could have retired.
I mean, the way the judicial retirement system worked I could have retired well before this, but I didn’t want to, but I could have.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you got reappointed somehow?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Well, anyway I was pro-tem judge and this is very interesting because it meant, for example
I could no longer supervise the judicial assistant because I was a temp, you know, I couldn’t do that.
So I wasn’t signing her time sheet anymore or any of that.
Various court committees I was on I was off them because pro-tem judges don’t do that.
And so on, but otherwise the work was just the same, except I signed pro-tem, pro-tem, pro-tem on everything.
And then I applied and went through the process again and the Judicial Council and all this stuff and they --
and they found two people qualified, and then I got appointed, and then took up being a full-time judge again.
But it was interesting, because, you know, I was on retirement check and all the things for those months and so I kind of got a taste of what that's going to be like, you know.
KAREN BREWSTER: And this is what 2007 you said, somewhere around there?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Yeah, well, this would have been I think I'm talking ’08 at this point that I went through that period.
I think I was reappointed in ’08 and they, you know, I'm sure this will never ever happen again and, of course, given the case,
and the experience that they've had they're doing a very good job now of reminding everybody about all these things I mean, the court system and so on --
that, but they, yeah, -- now I lost the train of thought there.
KAREN BREWSTER: It leads me to the question I had for you which is given your age other judges your age have retired. JUDGE JEFFERY: Uh-huh.
KAREN BREWSTER: You're what, in your late 60’s? I don’t know how old you are.
JUDGE JEFFERY: Yeah, late 60’s, right.
KAREN BREWSTER: And many judges your age have already retired. JUDGE JEFFERY: Correct. KAREN BREWSTER: And you have not. JUDGE JEFFERY: No.
KAREN BREWSTER: Why have you chosen to continue to serve on the bench?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Well, the way Esther and I feel about this is, it's -- we're there.
We were, I mean, the workings of the cosmos, who knows, we're kind of called to be there.
We're there, and we're both ready to leave if we were called to leave.
And maybe in some way, maybe it could be health or it could be something, you know.
But, on the other hand, I value the role that I'm playing in this community and I'm not done yet.
I mean, there's all kinds of things, especially in the FASD issue, but everything else.
I mean, there's ways I'd still like to improve the way we're doing things.
And, you know, could we get into more circle sentencing sometimes in juvenile delinquency cases.
I mean, this is a very time consuming way of doing something and, but in certain cases maybe we could do that.
Well, we've never done it. Could we start doing that?
And so there's just -- I just feel at the moment that this is where I'm supposed to be.
And then, of course, when by statute you can no longer be there, well, okay, you know, that's the end of it.
At age 70, you have to retire. There's no question about that. So yeah, that's the feeling.
And the other thing is the realities of, you know, the wisdom in today’s economic climate and everything is you're better off to keep working,
you know, just to keep not drawing down things before you have to, in terms of loans that are out there and all kinds of things.
So there's that aspect too, but that would totally be -- if we didn’t feel that this was the place we needed to be at this time
we're not -- we're just going to be staying for these other reasons, but that we do feel we're supposed to be there.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you feel like you have some sort of a legacy that you're leaving behind, or some biggest accomplishment you've made in your career working out of Barrow?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Sure.
KAREN BREWSTER: And what would that be?
JUDGE JEFFERY: There's some sort of legacy, but I don’t know.
KAREN BREWSTER: You don’t know what it is yet?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Well,, yeah, who knows, you know, but basically, you know, as we've talked about earlier, I had this unique advantage of having been there already,
you know, and then taking the, you know, changing roles into being the judge but having all this involvement and all this stuff that I'd already been doing.
And, you know, I suppose the legacy is -- is the value of having that. The value of caring for the people that you're working with.
And on the one hand, I mean, I try to, you know, I went to a very good law school and I have very high standards for myself in terms of the kind of quality of the work that I do.
And I'll go through draft after draft after draft of an opinion, until, you know, and it's a very big help to have the law clerk help edit it,
but at least in my court I'm writing the opinions.
It's not something I'm handing off to the law clerk to do most of the work.
I'm the one who's writing these opinions, which is very time consuming, but -- but so the idea is a combination of trying to have absolutely excellent quality of work as well as compassion and involvement in the community.
But I don’t, you know, whoever comes after me -- it'll be unlikely -- I mean, they're not going to be able to be just like me because I, you know, there's just this weird constellation of background that I have.
And no one should expect that the next person would be just like I am.
And, of course, you know, like I said earlier, any judge -- there are people who would be saying yeah let’s get, you know, it's fine for him to go now, you know, I've been there long enough or something like that.
But, I still I feel that most people are very, you know, glad that I'm there and would want me to stay as long as I could, so --
KAREN BREWSTER: Are there any particular cases that stick in your mind that were big cases or influential cases that you feel like your decision has had an impact?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Well, I can. Sometimes it's a brief impact.
There was one case where suddenly I'm involved with the Tribal Court operations in the Fairbanks area and in Barrow.
A father -- they had the Tribal Court down there was dealing with a child custody issue, and the father went down to have his say and they basically shut him out.
They would not allow him like into the room or stuff like that, and went ahead and made their decision.
And so they brought a state court case saying you should not -- this decision should not stand.
I mean, it cannot be given effect. And it was a very interesting issue because what are --
I mean, what role does the state court have in reviewing, you know, separate government’s operations in that way.
And I finally realized that it was -- there's something called the Indian Civil Rights Act.
And that’s -- that’s what governs and it does set some limits.
And so I, you know, using that, which is something that applies to tribes.
It'is a federal law applying to tribes and using that I did indeed say that this -- this couldn’t stand and it was redone or I forget exactly how it all turned out.
And there was a period of time where that was kind of a decision of some importance.
You know, it made it into some of the continuing education materials and stuff.
And then, you know, things changed and maybe there was a clarification of law. And it's just non-issue anymore, you know, so it's no longer a big thing like that.
But there was one -- I mean, I remember one incident where and I -- there can be, you know, I’m up there with this very low volume of civil litigation.
I don’t really know some of these issues, I mean, arguments that are being made to me or, you know, some of the issues that come up.
If these are hot topics in the big city, you know, I don’t know.
I'm just seeing this thing and I see that there's no, you know, supreme court authority on it and so on.
And so, you know, I just give it my best shot, and then sometimes it turns out that that's the one that got, you know, appealed to the supreme court to make the law, you know, or something like this.
But there was a great instance where Judge Cranston down in Kenai, who has since passed away who was another one -- speaking of people that I really value their example, Judge Cranston is another one.
He -- he used to be an attorney involved with the North Slope Borough and so on.
He'd come to Barrow with that, but the thing that I, you know, again someone who really cared about position, a very humble person.
After he retired, he maintained involvement with the Youth Court that they had down there.
He maintained involvement with Rotary Youth Exchange and he was running bicycle tours in Italy.
I don’t know, I just couldn’t believe all the different things that he was doing,
and it just show you here's a man who's really, you know, that's the kind of retirement, yeah, that's the thing to be doing, you know, maintaining serving the community and doing different things.
But anyway, there was a -- there was a case either there were two related cases or something, but I'd made a ruling on some issue. I forget what it was.
And then they tried to bring up similar arguments in front of him down in Kenai.
And, you know, second bite of the apple sort of thing and he said, "Oh, no, you made your arguments in front of Judge Jeffery that's the ruling, that's what we are going with, that's it," you know, so --
But I have had some cases I think one of the nicest time -- compliments that the supreme court every so often does is they will attach the trial court’s opinion to their opinion and --
and they did that with me once, which -- which I, you know, I was just very much appreciating because they totally don’t have to do that.
I mean, it wasn’t at the point -- there have been supreme court cases that just basically say we agree with the trial court opinion, see attached,
and then they've edited it into their, you know, kind of way of doing things.
And this was not like that, but they still included my opinion, which I thought was -- was -- was great.
But I don’t think, you know, we haven’t had -- I think the legacy is more in the approach than some particular legal issue.
I mean, we haven’t really talked about and I think it is worth talking about is state court and Native Tribal Courts.
KAREN BREWSTER: That was my next question.
JUDGE JEFFERY: Next question, okay. KAREN BREWSTER: Next question was Tribal Courts, so tell me about that.
JUDGE JEFFERY: Okay, well, here we go. The Native village of Barrow has gotten jurisdiction over child welfare cases in Barrow,
which means that the current reality is that the state court and the state social workers are not dealing with these cases at all, or rarely.
There are some families -- I mean, first of all, if they're a non-Native families or some families which for one reason or another has just refused to be involved with the tribal court then it would be referred out to the state system.
But by and large we don’t deal with the Barrow cases.
But there was an interesting period of transition there and I can’t give dates, but I'm remembering that there was --
at the beginning, you know, after the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, the tribal governments could what's called intervene in the state court cases, and that's still the way it works with the villages on the North Slope.
They can intervene in the child welfare cases for tribal members.
And what they do is they contract with regional nonprofits in Barrow, and so they'll be able to send the people over.
Sometimes it'll be on the phone from the village, but usually they have the local nonprofit people go and appear.
But it's possible for a tribal government to say we want to take jurisdiction back over this and so there was an activist who is not an Eskimo person, although not Caucasian either, that was working for the Native village of Barrow
and made that application -- I mean, with support of the tribe that they made that decision.
Well, years went by, maybe a couple years, I don’t know, and then suddenly the letter arrives saying yes, you know.
You have it. Well, of course, the person who had energized this whole thing had left town.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you remember that person’s name?
JUDGE JEFFERY: It's a relative of the Danner family. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
JUDGE JEFFERY: And I again don’t want to make a mistake, so I won’t say. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
JUDGE JEFFERY: But it's one of the Danner family. So she's Native Hawaiian and she, you know, as I say, she was doing a great job. KAREN BREWSTER: So now, ok, Tribal Court --
JUDGE JEFFERY: Right, but the problem was is that she'd gone and the people that were there at that time were not ready.
But there is federal money to help implement this kind of thing and so what --
there was an agreement made between the tribe and the state social workers, the Department of Health and Social Services that they would continue to do the cases.
However, the tribe could intervene any time that they wanted, which was always the case,
but also that they could take the case back if they wanted to at any time. So that was the first thing.
And then there was all this training going on and so as their tribal court began to get more trained there were --
like there was one case where there was a big fat file in my court, a termination of parental rights case,
and at least one if not both the parent’s attorneys said let’s just get -- blast this out of state court. Let’s put it in the Tribal Court, you know.
So they made an application to transfer juris -- that the Tribal Court should take that jurisdiction.
And basically under the Indian Child Welfare Act it allows the tribe to have those powers, but it also has limits, especially on transferring cases back and the --
and one of those limits is if there's already a big fat file already in the state court you just don’t bring it back.
But I love the approach that the tribe took.
They at that point they -- this is no longer the case, at that point they had like a consultant that was kind of like the chief judge and then there were --
who was a Native -- Lower 48 Native and local people with her and -- but we had -- we had a hearing.
It was on record and stuff that their point was -- the way they put it was part of our tribal law --
our tribal heritage is that we honor our agreements and we have agreed that we would not, you know, take this kind of case back and so we refuse --
we decline jurisdiction, which they always have the right to do and I just loved that.
I mean, I thought that was great, but we have a lot of respect for each other.
I mean, there's really -- we don’t -- sometimes they will come to our legal providers meeting.
I was even invited a couple of times, including last week, to become a member of their Tribal Court Committee, which would oversee the operations of the court and how well it's following their -- their rules.
And I just -- I emailed back and I said, you know, I just can’t do this.
I mean, it's just not appropriate, you know, for a state court judge to have that kind of role in the Tribal Court.
KAREN BREWSTER: So the Tribal Court is currently functioning in Barrow? JUDGE JEFFERY: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: And how do you see its effectiveness versus the state court effectiveness for those -- their child welfare cases?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Well, it's hard for me to say because I mean, I can see there's advantages that the state court has.
I mean, of course, we have the clear state laws that everybody is used to.
We have the right to counsel, the parents have. We have the ability to store information.
I mean, we're all set up for that, you know, we -- and now, of course, it's all digital, but we're storing all this information so it's easy to -- and then there's again paid social workers.
Well, you know, with the tribal sometimes there's problems with staffing.
I don’t know if their judges are paid. I think maybe they are, but maybe not, I don’t know, but there's problems of having the time to do it.
I frankly just don’t know because those cases are out of the state court, so I'm not following them.
I don’t know how well they're turning out.
I'm sure that it's more understandable what they're doing than what the state court does and what the state court social workers do.
And as I'm sure it's more comfortable because they're working with other Inupiaq people.
And I'm not aware of any big problems, so that means it's probably a good thing, but I don’t -- I don’t know for a fact.
I mean, I don’t -- I'm not, for example I'm not seeing cases that say to me oh this whole thing is falling apart, you know, it's not working, we should do it in the state court or something, I'm not seeing that kind of a case.
And so as far as I'm concerned, it's -- it's a big positive, because just in our workload it's helping the state court, actually.
I mean, we'd have a very noticeable increase. I mean, the social workers and the court if we were dealing with all the Barrow cases.
They have -- the one time where we really intersect is that they have a program for minor consuming alcohol cases where the state court and this is by state statute can refer people to the Tribal Court program.
And then if they complete that program it can be dismissed in the state court records.
And we're doing that and they have a wonderful program.
And the thing that's neat and I haven’t, you know, looked at this recently, but the last time I did
they brought in, I mean, they had like sitting on their panel they had tribal judges and the juvenile probation officer, you know, the state, you know, like a state social worker would be involved in that, too, and they bring in all this expertise, which I thought was great.
I don’t know exactly the way it works right now, but --
So I think -- I think at lea -- you know, in Barrow there's not -- there's not the kind of friction or, you know, stuff that sometimes there is in other parts of the country and maybe parts of Alaska, but, so yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Were there any other topics that you want to make sure we talk about that I haven’t asked you about that come to mind?
JUDGE JEFFERY: I'm sure there are, especially when I think about it tonight or tomorrow. Why don’t we pause for a minute?
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Can you tell me about what it was like learning to be a judge and what you had to learn?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Well, in learning to be a judge when I started was more difficult than it is now.
I just -- I just love the level of training that is given to new judges over a period of three -- three years.
They have special conferences where they pull in the new judges.
The new judge is assigned a mentor judge and there's more materials available that the judge --
judges can use as a place to start with their running a hearing and stuff like that.
So there's a lot of materials, but back in 1982 it wasn’t quite so much like that, and it was kind of like you were -- you were just sworn in and go for it.
There were some what are called, you know, some scripts and things that people could use just to get an idea of how to do certain kinds of routine hearings,
and those were helpful at the beginning, but there just wasn’t a lot of training.
You really had to just call colleagues and then, of course, the court system does have one or two training events a year and then that was a time to see all your colleagues and also get that kind of training.
They also required that you within the -- after you've been a judge for a few months, go down to this place called the National Judicial College,
which is at the University of Nevada Reno, but what they do is they have this facility there and then they bring in judges and other trainers from all over the country and then judges from all over the country,
and they have the courses and then everybody goes home, but it's -- it's a real service to the smaller states.
The bigger states have their own training programs, and so like I did that and that was very helpful.
But -- but part of this is appearances and just the way you do things and like when I was first appointed,
I mean, literally, really at the beginning when I would walk in the courtroom I'd be grinning and where my head was at is, "I can’t believe this."
I wear this black robe and, you know, everybody is standing up and this is so weird, you know.
And then it suddenly hit me, and no one said anything, but it suddenly hit me that there's another way of looking at that
and that would be, "Oh, just look he eats this up," you know.
And so and I thought, you know, that is a very possible reaction and so I now come in with a somewhat firm, you know, maybe a slight smile, but not -- nothing more than that, but that's the reason.
And we talked earlier about how during hearings you have to, you know, make sure if you are feeling emotional
whether in a sad way or maybe something's too funny, but you're not going to do that.
Of course, obviously, especially in a small court there are times when we all laugh at something going on, but if there's something like I -- only I know how funny it is
and nobody else would, I mean, it's very important that you don’t prejudice anybody, and so you'd go out in the hallway, and stuff like that.
And then I've been to different -- we have some training events. I mean, it's been very, you know, sometimes where they talk about oh -- way --
I mean, I've seen videos, for example of judges where they're trying to do like paperwork that's connected with the hearing or maybe other paperwork,
but it looks terrible because people are talking and the judge is just there writing about something else and handing papers to somebody.
And just seeing that on video has helped me to make sure that I, you know, don’t do that.
I mean, I'll explain, like sometimes I do write out like the bail order or something during the hearing, but I explain why I'm writing out the bail order.
And then I have a laptop and I'm taking notes and you know, it's kind of obvious what I'm doing, but sometimes I'll explain I hope this doesn’t bother anyone. But I -- like in a jury trial I have to do this.
I mean, the jury -- you've got 12 people that are going to decide something, but I've got to keep track of what is going on and, of course, it helps me stay focused, too.
So as I say, now there's a lot more -- I really value the effort that's being made to train new judges. That's great.
KAREN BREWSTER: We only have a few minutes left, so why don’t we go into a little bit the role of the magistrate and how in a small - JUDGE JEFFERY: Okay.
KAREN BREWSTER: -- court like yours, how that magistrate and the judge work together. How that all --
JUDGE JEFFERY: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: -- works? JUDGE JEFFERY: Well, basically there's a jurisdictional issue.
The superior court judge -- and the model in most of the rural towns like Barrow, Kotzebue, Nome, Bethel,
well Bethel's a different case, but Barrow, Kotzebue, Nome, Dillingham, Sitka, Ketchikan, well maybe not Ketchikan,
but Sitka and various others, is you have one superior court judge who is called a -- who is a general jurisdiction judge, who can handle any kind of case,
from murder to traffic ticket to multi millions to a small claims, I mean, anything.
And then you have limited jurisdiction magistrates who are dealing with civil cases up to a certain amount and the misdemeanor crimes and then the serious felony cases only at the very beginning.
And, but praise the Lord, the -- most of the cases are in numbers are indeed these less serious cases. Good thing.
And so that means that the magistrate is touching a lot more people than I do.
And, of course, I really realize that when the magistrate is on leave.
There are times -- now we do have a system set up where we train our law clerks as deputy magistrates,
and they do have jurisdiction during the work week if there's no other judicial officer available, then they can go in and do some of these hearings,
which is a tremendous help when the magistrate is out of town because I might be in a trial or who knows what,
and yet there's these other hearings can keep happening because the deputy magistrate does them.
When they're both gone, it might be that it's well, wait in line we'll get to your domestic violence petition at five or six at night or something, because I can’t do it before then, you know.
KAREN BREWSTER: Your case load goes up significantly?
JUDGE JEFFERY: My personal, yeah.
And the thing that happens is we can keep it together with the things that have to be done,
but anything else, for example legal issues that need to be decided, you know, and written out and maybe a 30 or 50 page opinion or something
that's not happening at all.
And so what happens is all that stuff just sits, because I'm just doing all these other things.
But the magistrate plays a very important role and it's very -- if the magistrates -- I mean, I don’t like sit and watch them.
I (a) don’t have time and it's a little weird. The magistrates are actually evaluated by the presiding judge now and not by the local judge.
He would come over, he or she, depending on the district, but --
KAREN BREWSTER: Is there a difference -- some magistrates have legal backgrounds and some don’t, is that correct? JUDGE JEFFERY: No, not now, no. The magistrates are all law trained.
KAREN BREWSTER: Now, okay.
JUDGE JEFFERY: Even though by statute it's not necessary, but the work is so complex that that's the way it is now.
KAREN BREWSTER: But in the past there were non-legal ones?
JUDGE JEFFERY: Correct, including Sadie Neakok.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. JUDGE JEFFERY: For example, who was fantastic.
But it's just so much more busy now, and it's so much more legal, and its -- I don’t know it would be very hard I believe for a non-law trained person to become the magistrate.
But I just wanted to say that, I mean, it's a very critical part of the way the whole thing --
the whole justice system works is to have that -- that second judicial officer. It's really important.
And by the same token when I'm out of town, there're certain things that just have to wait until I get back.
There're certain things like I did on this trip I do by phone.
There're certain things that one of my colleagues might do.
And then there's other things that the magistrate can do at least some of it as what's called a master, the standing master, and then it would be signed off and approved by another judge.
One thing I wanted to mention also about the way I do things, because there're some judges, superior court judges, who do not do juvenile delinquency and do not do child welfare cases.
Those are all done by the magistrate or a standing master or something, and then they simply sign off on them.
Now in my view those are superior court issues and I'm a superior court judge and it should be handled at the level of a superior court judge.
And so -- and so I personally do the child welfare cases and the juvenile delinquency cases, unless I'm taken off the case for some reason.
And then another superior court judge would take over, or I'm out of town or something like that.
But I feel pretty strongly even though it's very time consuming to do this, that this is the right way to do it and I -- I enjoy being involved in mostly --
sometimes it's very stressful but -- by being involved in these cases so.
KAREN BREWSTER: Alright. Well, that's great. Thank you very much for your afternoon. It's been very --
JUDGE JEFFERY: This was great. No. Fun to talk. KAREN BREWSTER: It's been very educational.
JUDGE JEFFERY: Yeah, fun to talk. Thank you. KAREN BREWSTER: Thank you.