Juneau’s Dimond Courthouse finally gets its third Superior Court judge

Senior Superior Court Judge Donald Hopwood administers the oath of office to Juneau Superior Court Judge Daniel Schally during his installation ceremony March 29, 2019 at the Dimond Courthouse. Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger (left) and Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg (right) look on. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Juneau’s newest judge was publicly welcomed to the bench recently, and he occupies a new Superior Court seat created to deal with the increasing number of cases piling up at the Dimond Courthouse.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Daniel Schally has actually been hearing cases since Jan. 2, when he was officially sworn in by video conference. But the public swearing-in and robing ceremony was scheduled for March 29 to allow local lawyers, friends and family to attend, like his cousin who traveled all the way from Ireland.

“I, Daniel Schally, do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of the State of Alaska,” Schally read the oath administered by Senior Superior Court Judge Donald Hopwood. “And that I will faithfully discharge my duties as judge of the Superior Court to the best of my ability.”

Schally was first appointed to the District Court bench in Valdez nearly 14 years ago. But Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger said Schally has frequently filled in for himself and others on the Superior Court bench.

Bolger used an unusual simile to characterize Schally’s experience.

“This is like when a woman has a baby that comes out with long fingernails and a full head of hair,” said Bolger to the eruption of loud laughter in a courtroom at the Dimond Courthouse. “This is a mature Superior Court judge.”

According to statistics compiled by Alaska Court System, the number of cases filed in Juneau Superior Court increased from 1,039 cases in 2007 to 1,286 cases in 2018. That’s nearly a 24% increase over 11 years.

So the Legislature created a new Superior Court seat in Juneau last spring, followed by then-Gov. Bill Walker appointing Schally to the seat last November. There are now three Superior Court judges and one District Court judge at Juneau’s Dimond Courthouse.

Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens, the presiding judge for Southeast Alaska, said the third judge has been a priority for a long time.

“Dan being here isn’t lost, I think, on the Juneau bar and Juneau legal community,” Stephens said. “This position is the result of a lot of brainstorming and effort that began many, many, many years ago, before I was a presiding judge on how to bring additional judicial resources to Juneau, because it’s such a busy court.”

Since January, Schally himself has been busy helping tackle that increasing caseload, ranging from felony criminal cases to high-value civil cases, mental health commitments, and children in need of aid.

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Matt Miller is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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