Dillingham’s new assistant district attorney is in town this week as part of a transition to take over the caseload. His arrival comes after a two year fight to keep the local DA’s office open and staffed with a prosecutor in town.
Dan Doty sat behind his desk at the Dillingham district attorney’s office Monday afternoon. In between a few court hearings and familiarizing himself with the caseload he’s taking over, Doty has been making rounds to introduce himself to town.
“You’ve got a very dedicated police force at DPD, you’ve got a lot of very competent troopers at the AST post here. I met with Mayor Ruby, and she was very welcoming and enthusiastic about having me here,” he said. “I’m looking forward to serving this community and living in it at the same time.”
A 2013 William & Mary Law School grad, Doty started his career in the Bethel district attorney’s office, which has a considerably larger staff and larger caseload than Dillingham. He was there for two years before moving to Anchorage to work for a private law firm.
“I did that for a year, then worked at the municipal prosecutor’s office in Anchorage for a little while before the state reached out to me,” he said. “They told me they’d like someone with rural experience running the office out here in Dillingham,” a job he was eager to sign on for.
Doty is taking over the caseload from Pamela Dale, who has been assigned to the Dillingham court since the beginning of 2016. At that time it wasn’t clear the Dillingham DA’s office would stay open, and after one of the two ADA’s was laid off and the other quit, Dale was hired to take the cases but work from Anchorage. In an interview with KDLG in February 2016, she pointed out that would not necessarily be a bad setup.
“I understand that the community would like their DA in the community, but I can also tell you that I do not believe that Dillingham is being sold short having the Anchorage district attorney’s office handling this jurisdiction,” she said.
Dale highlighted the ability to take felony charges before an Anchorage grand jury for indictment sooner, avoiding a complicated delay scheme that often results in temporarily reduced charges and lower bail. Another plus was having senior attorneys available for help and advice. Dale proved to be a feisty and dedicated prosecutor who kept her eye on the ball even as she lived in and worked primarily from Anchorage.
“I live downtown, every single morning, first thing, I go into the office and see if there are any in-custody arraignments … you’re covered seven days a week. My entire job is the Dillingham calendar,” she said.
Still, law enforcement and the community had grown accustomed to having their prosecutor in town. After the position was cut from the budget, many spoke up vigorously to get it back.
“The overriding message was there’s just simply no substitute for having local presence in the community,” said Rep. Bryce Edgmon in January, referring to the input he and Sen. Lyman Hoffman had received.
The Walker administration announced late in 2015 that the Dillingham office would be closed, cutting the remaining one attorney and one paralegal positions to save an estimated $340,000 annually. Hoffman and Edgmon fought to keep it open.
“I certainly had my doubts as to whether we would get it in the budget, number one, and number two whether we could actually get it staffed in Dillingham,” Edgmon said.
The Department of Law announced in January that it found its attorney to send to Dillingham, and would keep the office open with Doty and one paralegal. The office itself will move from the Bristol Inn downtown to a converted rental home closer to the new courthouse on Emperor Way.
Dillingham is a busy court with about 400 criminal cases filed annually. Doty expects to soon take over almost all of the open cases, minus one sexual assault Dale will take to trial again later this year and a homicide being handled by a senior prosecutor from Anchorage. Naknek cases, which used to be fielded by the Dillingham office when there were two attorneys, will continue to be assigned to various prosecutors in the Anchorage office.
Doty and his wife will make the move to the area next month. He said they are looking to close on a home soon and are planning to start a family here.