A new magistrate will begin hearing cases in Sitka next month.
Bethel Superior Court Judge Leonard Devaney starts work in Sitka on July 2. Under Alaska law, a magistrate can handle anything from traffic tickets to the early proceedings in criminal cases.
Devaney comes into the job after the death last January of Magistrate Bruce Horton. In the time since Horton’s passing, the Sitka court has been served by substitute magistrates from around Southeast.
Neil Nesheim is the area court administrator in Southeast Alaska. He says Devaney will carry on the legacy Horton left of doing the job right and teaching others to do the same.
Sitka’s courthouse is served by a full-time judge, but Nesheim says having a full-time magistrate on staff will make a big difference.
“Oh it’s a huge financial relief,” he said. “We’ve spent a fair amount of time and money bringing outside help in. From the staff’s standpoint, the stability and continuity with one permanent position there is going to make a huge difference.”
Devaney earned his law degree from the University of Montana in 1990. His bachelor’s degree is from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He was appointed to the Superior Court in 2002 by Governor Tony Knowles. By moving into a magistrate’s job, he gives up some jurisdiction.
“It’s actually pretty unusual,” Nesheim said. “I think he saw this as an opportunity, one, to get different experience throughout the state, and two, to move to an absolutely beautiful location. And he certainly picked a winner when he picked Sitka.”
In a statement, Devaney says that after 20 years on the treeless tundra, he’s looking forward to taking walks in the forest.