Rabinowitz dies at 74 of cancer

Former Chief Justice for Alaska Supreme Court served on bench for nearly 40 years

Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2001

A pillar of Alaska's legal system has died.

Former Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court Jay Rabinowitz of Juneau died of cancer Saturday afternoon at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.

Rabinowitz, 74, served on the Alaska Supreme Court for 32 years, four times as Chief Justice.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, he arrived in Fairbanks in 1957 as a law clerk. He served as an assistant U.S. attorney, deputy state attorney general and a Fairbanks Superior Court judge. He was appointed to the Alaska Supreme Court in 1965 by Gov. Bill Egan.

He was born Feb. 25, 1927, in Philadelphia.

Gov. Tony Knowles has ordered state flags lowered to half-staff on Monday in his honor. Knowles often asked Rabinowitz for guidance and input on state issues, said Deputy Press Secretary Claire Richardson.

Friends described Rabinowitz as one of Alaska's pre-eminent jurists and a dedicated father.

Former Attorney General Charlie Cole of Fairbanks met Rabinowitz in February 1957 at a ski cabin and has been a close friend since then.

"He more than anyone shaped Alaska law," Cole said. "He zealously protected constitutional rights and he was conservative in the application of criminal law. He also was a wonderful family man."

Rabinowitz leaves a huge legacy in decisions he wrote for the court, people he trained as law clerks and friends outside of the legal system, said neighbor Kim Hutchinson.

"He had a real love for the state. He came here before statehood and stayed here because he loved Alaska. That drove his personal life and that drove his legal life," he said.

Rabinowitz also had a tremendous sense of humor, he added.

Attorney General Bruce Botelho met Rabinowitz as a law student, describing him as "among the titans."

"He was the epitome of what justice is about," Botelho said. "He had a reputation that was deserved as a great scholar, but he also had a great heart, one that was filled with compassion."

Rabinowitz had battled cancer for several years. Retired Superior Court Judge Rodger Pegues of Juneau said Rabinowitz had amazing inner strength and always did the best he could.

"I don't think people understand how important judges are," Pegues said. "The Legislature always leaves gaps in the law and it has to be decided 'What we are going to do?' He understand that was his job and he was good at it."

Rabinowitz stepped down from the court when he turned 70 as required by state law. The Alaska Court System announced plans last week to name a new Fairbanks courthouse after him.

Rabinowitz is survived by his wife Ann and four children. Memorial services have not yet been scheduled.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.

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