This summer, staff from the Alaska Bar Association visited Bethel to learn how well the legal system is working here. Geoffrey Wildridge is the President-elect of the association.
“It means I’m the president in training,” Wildridge says. “I’ll be in that position for another year roughly before I become the full fledge president. My reign of terror begins at that point (laughs).”
Wildridge easily jokes about his role as President-elect but it means that he will be running the meetings for the Alaska Bar Association and setting direction for the group.
The bar association is made up of over 4,000 lawyers in the state. They are tasked with advancing the profession, maintaining the integrity of the profession, and managing the bar examination for new attorneys. The association is also supposed advance the cause of justice and serve in the interest of the public.
Wildridge has been a lawyer in Alaska since 1979. He’s mostly been a public defender based out of Fairbanks but he’s also familiar with courts in the Bush. He spent time working in Barrow and Kotzebue and says getting legal services to rural Alaska is always a concern.
“That will be one of my goal’s when I become president, ensuring that the delivery of services to this area will be improved upon,” Wildridge says.
Bethel, which is a hub community for the Y-K Delta, is home to 32 lawyers. Wildridge met with many of them during his visit, listening to them about what works and doesn’t work with delivering services. Also taking notes was Krista Scully, the pro bono director for the Alaska Bar Association. Her job is to help get equal access of legal services to Alaskans.
“So, it’s not just lawyers that it impacts, it impacts social services agencies, businesses, local community members, and talking about how a lack of justice really has a ripple effect on an entire community,” Scully says.
One of the biggest challenges in rural Alaska is residents not having access to lawyers. With the onset of internet services in the villages, a lot of legal assistance can be now been found on-line, according to Scully.
“The court system has done this incredible job in making forms able to be both read and filled out at about a third grade level,” Scully says. “So, that makes it accessible to many, many people. And then they have services that are both telephonic and web-based.”
She says the Alaska Court System’s website can be very helpful with forms, pleadings, and a glossary of court terms. For family issues, people can go to the Family Law Center.
Alaska Legal Services has a website called Alaska Law Help.org which covers things like criminal law, tenant and land lord issues, and family law issues.
The Alaska Bar Association has also published two on-line guides. One is for seniors and their care givers and the other is for youth. They can be found on the bar association’s website, alaskabar.org.