FAIRBANKS - The first time Kareston Robinson received a follow-up call from one of her former clients at North Star Youth Court, she was a little worried.
"I thought I did something bad," said Robinson, a Lathrop High School sophomore and youth court attorney.
It turns out, it was the opposite.
"They just called me and were like, 'You know, thank you very, very much and I have turned around so much,"' she said. "It is just so amazing. I felt really good."
Moments like that are one of the reasons Robinson loves youth court, a program that handles criminal cases for juvenile first-time offenders. As far as she knows, most of her clients have remained arrest-free since their youth court experience.
"I am sort of making a difference," she said. "At least, I think I am."
Robinson got her start with youth court in its mediation program. She joined in seventh grade and was among the first students to complete the training program. The summer before her freshman year, she attended training to become a youth court attorney.
Since then, she has tried 15 to 20 cases, she said, as a prosecutor and defense attorney.
Robinson, who hopes to one day attend Harvard Law School, takes her job seriously.
"If I don't take it seriously now, I don't think I will take it seriously when I become a lawyer," she said.
With a bubbling laugh and a contagious grin, Robinson matches her self-assessment: "Spunky and spontaneous."
Her appraisal of the offenders who she represents is tempered by understanding. Most of them are remorseful for their actions and deserve a chance to right their mistakes, she said.
"I would tell them (the public) these are just regular teens, and we all make bad decisions, and we don't think about the consequences at the time," she said.
Still, the job can be frustrating when a defendant isn't sorry, Robinson said, although that's only happened once.
"It just makes me so disappointed that they really don't care," she said. "As a defense attorney, you feel, 'I should be prosecuting for this case."'
Among the staff at North Star Youth Court, Robinson is known for her ability to make people immediately feel at ease. It serves her well in both prosecution and defense, said Marita Bunch, program director.
Prosecutors sometimes have to contact victims for information, Bunch said.
"If I did have a case where I have a very sensitive victim, she would be the first person I would call," Bunch said.
But it is at the defense table that Robinson truly shines, she said. Robinson gets to know her clients and learns as much personal information as she can, Bunch said.
"I know her appointments take 45 minutes," she said.
Everyone else's take five.
"She will spend as much time as needed to make sure the defendant knows what to expect in court," Bunch said.
Troughout the process, she gathers snippets of positive things about her clients, Bunch said, and relays those to the judge during sentencing.
"It is very effective," she said, and serves to humanize her clients in the eyes of the judges.
And, because Robinson's clients come away from youth court with a positive experience, they are less likely to commit another crime, Bunch said.