Juneau attorney Nave appointed to judgeship

Posted: Monday, September 27, 2010

With more than 34 years as a Juneau attorney, and thousands of cases under his belt, Thomas Nave will now grasp a gavel and sit on the other side of the bench with his appointment to the Juneau District Court by Gov. Sean Parnell on Friday.

"I'm absolutely thrilled," he said. "It's going to be different having spent the last 34 years representing people."

Nave said he won't miss the distasteful reality of having to charge his clients for his services, but would miss the relationships he's built with them.

"Part of what I am going to miss is the clients that I have had over the years," Nave said. "I've cared a great deal about them and they have been happy with the efforts I have put forth for them ... and that has been the source of an awful lot of fun satisfaction for me over the years."

As an Alaska District Court judge, Nave will have jurisdiction over state misdemeanors and violations of city ordinances. He may also hold preliminary hearings in felony cases, try civil cases valued at less than $100,000 and small claims cases valued at less than $10,000, hear domestic violence cases, and issue summonses, arrest warrants and search warrants.

Nave reflected on his years as an attorney in the court room.

"Real magic happens in there once in a while," Nave said. "It is not just the routine one sees when there are 20 different people scheduled for arraignments in a day, or 40 people for pretrial hearings at 2:30 on a Monday ... every once in a while you get the occasion where there is a defendant who just has trouble perceiving where the light is, and after having done this for so long I know where the light is and you can show him and explain it and give him the incentive to get there ... it happens. It may not happen every day, but it happens."

Nave also mentioned the drunken driving case of Tyler Emerson a year ago in June as one that affected him greatly. Speeding during a camping trip after a high school graduation, Emerson lost control of his car. Passenger Taylor White, his best friend, was killed and another minor injured.

"That case was just heartbreaking all around," Nave said. "But it is one of those examples of a case where tragedy can be turned into something positive. What was really neat about that case was that Tyler was the kind of fellow who, devastated of course, still wanted to do all he could to make amends."

Nave said Emerson, his client, helped the White family create the Taylor White foundation which has greatly aided the fight against underage drinking through a movie and speeches by those involved in that incident at both Juneau high schools and Centennial Hall.

"He was out there before his case was even over," Nave said. "Saying he was responsible ... and helping them all work through the process looking for the most positive out come."

Nave said at sentencing this August, in which Emerson received the minimum allowed, that the hue and cry was not for blood but for Emerson in remembrance and recognition of White. Judge Philip Pallenberg stated at the time that "if a minimum sentence didn't apply in this case than I don't know if there will ever be a case that does ..."

"It was the opposite dynamic you would expect," Nave said. "The White family even came to testify for Tyler at his sentencing ... to watch people bear themselves to that degree, and to be so generous in spirit was really one of the highlights of my career ... a neat postscript to this was Tyler went to jail to serve his one year and he was classified and processed into a half-way house within hours and he is currently carrying a full load at (the University of Alaska Southeast)."

Nave is hoping the feelings of working hard for a client through negotiations with prosecutors to reach the best possible result and seeing clients succeed will have the potential to be found in his new position.

"If I didn't think so I wouldn't have applied for it," Nave said.

Nave filed his application for the judgeship last April and now his case load, if he can't finish all of them, will be handled by Julie Willoughby and Louis Menendez.

"Of course the court administration wants me yesterday," Nave laughed. "The presiding judge asked me to start October 1 but i have some trials to finish ... every day my calendar is full ... I will probably begin toward the end of November."

Nave arrived in Juneau in December of 1976. He began in private practice, joined the public defenders' office as a trial lawyer then as deputy director (with a year in Fairbanks from 1979-1980), and formed the Gullufsen and Nave law practice, which was in operation until 1991. He then became a sole practitioner with emphasis on criminal defense, personal injury, and legal malpractice. Nave and wife Susan Cox, a supervisor in the attorney general's office, have two adult children, Julia and Peter.

Nave is a graduate of Oregon State University and Northwestern School of Law at Lewis and Clark College. He is a former member of the Alaska Judicial Council and currently serves on the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Nave said he doesn't have any huge magnetic aspirations in judgeship.

"I know the job very well after three decades in practice in court," Nave said. "But it is not so much my goal to be outstanding as it is to just do a very good job. And to give both sides of any conflict an equal airing.. not because I can but because that is my natural inclination and I think it is a very necessary part of it. The ability to listen and not treat it as a cookie cutter sort of process, giving every individual his day in court is very important to me."

• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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