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Letter: True Alaska pioneer

Posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2001

As impressive as the numbers are - 32 years on the Alaska Supreme Court and 1,213 written opinions - numbers don't even begin to capture Jay Rabinowitz's essence or his contribution to Alaska.

Granted, I am quite biased, having had the good fortune to clerk for Justice Rabinowitz in 1994, the year he came down with cancer. Suffice to say, he was the rarest of breeds: a man who took his work seriously, but not himself. Pick your adjective - genius, compassionate, fair, unassuming, open-minded, objective, funny, earnest, athletic, giving, humble - all are accurate but equally inadequate in describing the man.

Though I could share numerous anecdotal stories, they all reveal the same thing: a beautiful man. I remember in 1994 when, barely able to stand, he literally snuck out of the hospital in Juneau against doctors' orders to swear in Gov. Knowles. I remember a judge who in trying to craft an answer would constantly say, "what do the treatises say ... what does the record say?" As for his legal acumen, the U.S. Supreme Court actually cited his opinions on occasion, a rare feat and perhaps the ultimate sign of respect.

From my perch I saw a man who after 30 years - and in the throes of cancer no less - still dotted every i and crossed every t. He was apolitical. He was tireless. He ran his first of several marathons after turning 50. In an era where nearly everyone has an agenda of sorts, he was tunnel-visioned in his pursuit of justice. He called 'em as he saw 'em.

Saying he will be remembered long after he is gone is not a trite clich in Justice Rabinowitz's jurisprudence will help guide the state for years to come. All said, though he would frown upon a tribute such as this, Rabinowitz was a true Alaska "pioneer."

Bill Choslovsky

Chicago

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