Posted: Monday, June 25, 2001

Jay A. Rabinowitz

Former Alaska Chief Justice Jay A. Rabinowitz, 74, died June 16, 2001, in Seattle.

He was born in Philadelphia on Feb. 25, 1927, to Rose and Milton Rabinowitz. When he was 5, his family moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. During World War II, he served with the U.S. Army Air Corps. When the war ended, he attended Syracuse University and Harvard Law School, graduating in 1952.

He worked as a lawyer in New York City before accepting a job as a law clerk to U.S. Territorial Court Judge Vernon Forbes in Fairbanks in 1957. Shortly after his arrival, he met his wife Anne during a ski outing with friends.

After his clerkship, Rabinowitz worked as assistant U.S. Attorney in territorial Fairbanks, then as chief of the Alaska Department of Law's Civil Division in Juneau. In 1960, at age 33, he was appointed to the Superior Court bench in Fairbanks by Gov. Bill Egan, and became the first judge to try a case after statehood. Five years later he was appointed by Egan to the Alaska Supreme Court, where he served for more than three decades.

During his years on the Supreme Court, Rabinowitz personally wrote more than 1,200 opinions, including almost 200 dissents. In 1997, at the age of 70, he was required by state law to retire.

His long-time colleague, Justice Warren Matthews, credits Rabinowitz with establishing the court's traditions of conduct, not only by his example of hard work and intellectual rigor, but also by his insistence that members of the court act with civility in their discussions and opinions, and treat litigants and attorneys with similar respect. Rabinowitz was dedicated to the principle that all Alaskans are entitled to equal access to the judicial system, once observing in an opinion that "the judiciary in a multiracial jurisdiction, such as Alaska, must be peculiarly sensitive to racial discrimination." He devoted much effort to improving the administration of justice in rural Alaska, overseeing the establishment of Superior Courts in rural areas and the expansion of the magistrate system for smaller villages. Even after his retirement, he continued to serve the Alaska Court System as a "pre tem" trial judge in Juneau.

Rabinowitz was a role model and mentor. Many prominent Alaska attorneys, pubic servants and judges can trace their legal roots to his Fairbanks chambers. "Beyond his overwhelming intellect, the deepest impression he left on me was in his warmth, grace and humanity, which left an indelible imprint that I strive to emulate to this day, over 20 years after my clerkship ended," said former law clerk Andy Harrington.

For over 30 years, Rabinowitz served as a commissioner on the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Law. In 1980, the Anchorage Daily News named him its "Citizen of the Decade."

Rabinowitz and his wife Anne raised four children in Fairbanks Judy, Mara, Max and Sarah. A devoted father, he encouraged his children in both academics and athletics. In his later years, he took great delight in the dedicated, humble and generous lives his children led.

Rabinowitz is survived by his wife of 44 years, Anne, of Juneau; daughter Judy, son-in-law Steven Bonorris, and grandsons Alexander and Julian of Larkspur, Calif.; daughter Mara of Anchorage; daughter Sarah and her fianc Jon Katchen of Boston; son Max and daughter-in-law Lisa of Albuquerque, N.M.; brother Robert Rabinowitz and his wife Kate O'Toole of New York City; sister Judy Gerard of New York City; uncle Albert Rabinowitz of Philadelphia; and many nieces and nephews.

A public memorial honoring Rabinowitz will be held at the University of Alaska-Anchorage's Wendy Williamson Auditorium on Tuesday, July 10, at 3 p.m. Memorial donations may be made to a scholarship fund that will be announced at that time.

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