Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Non-adversarial alternative courts provide challenge and rewards

Alternative or therapeutic courts are probably one of the biggest movements in the judiciary since the Judiciary Act of 1789, Assistant Professor Cory Lepage, Justice faculty, told a nearly standing room only audience at a panel discussion on alternative courts last week in the Lew Haines Conference Room at the UAA/APU Consortium Library.

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Deborah Smith, Federal Probation Officer Chris Liedike, Assistant District Attorney Heather Nobrega, and Assistant Public Defender Ben Muse spoke of their experiences in alternative courts in an event sponsored by the UAA Justice Club as part of National Criminal Justice Month.

R-L: Assistant District Attorney Heather Nobrega, Assistant Public Defender
Ben Muse, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Deborah Smith, and
Federal Probation Officer Chris Liedike
The non-adversarial courts bring prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, probation officer and defendant together to craft a set of requirements that often include intense outpatient treatment, random UAs, getting a job or doing volunteer work, and regular updates to the court for 12 to 18 months. 

"It’s a lot easier to sit on your butt in jail,” Assistant D.A. Heather Nobrega said.

The non-adversarial approach takes some getting used to, according to Assistant P. D. Ben Muse. “Heather and I are trial lawyers, people don’t always play nice.” 

“We have different perspectives,” Nobrega said, adding, “The judge makes the ultimate decision.”

Both agree, though, on the success of the court and its ability to support defendants and helping to keep them from re-offending.

Judge Deborah  Smith presides over the Alaska Hope Court – a pilot project at the federal level.  Probation Officer Chris Liedike, a reentry specialist, works with defendants in the program.

It’s a carrot and stick approach with immediate and proportional sanctions, Judge Smith said. A positive UA results in immediate jail time, two days if the defendant is truthful, four days if not truthful.

Judge Smith invited audience members to visit her court, which is in session every other Thursday in courtroom 4 in the federal building. “It’s open to the public,” she said. “Feel free to come and join us or intern with us.”