Nome welcomes new Superior Court Judge DiBenedetto
On Thursday, April 13 the main Nome courtroom gallery was filled with a large crowd to witness the installation of Romano DiBenedetto as Nome’s new Superior Court Judge.
DiBenedetto was appointed to the judgeship by Governor Bill Walker in January. He comes to Nome from Fairbanks, where he was a Magistrate Judge for five years.
Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Craig Stowers offered a welcome to Nomeites and the new judge, and administered the oath. Second Judicial District Presiding Judge Paul Roetman of Kotzebue performed the robing and also offered remarks to the new judge. Also present was Fairbanks District Court Judge Matthew Christian.
Judge Stowers began his remarks with the names of the five judges who preceded DiBenedetto in serving as judges in Nome, noting that the installation of DiBenedetto is a historic moment. “I also want to acknowledge that the past couple of years have been difficult for the Nome court, Nome practitioners, and the Nome community,” Stowers said.
For nearly two years, Nome’s judge position had been vacant as former Nome Judge Tim Dooley first was on sick leave and then resigned for health reasons in January 2016. Prior to that, Dooley was investigated by the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct and the body has recommended that Judge Dooley receive public censure for making statements that violated the Alaska Code of Judicial Conduct during courtroom proceedings from May 2013 through September 2014.
In the absence of a judge in a single judge courthouse, judges from other locations had to fill in to work the Nome cases. Stowers acknowledged Kotzebue Judge Paul Roetman, as the presiding judge in the district, “who has labored long into the night, almost every night, to personally cover or arrange for coverage for the vacant Nome Superior Court bench.” Stowers also lauded the Nome court staff for making it all work and Magistrate Judge Bob Lewis for working basically two jobs.
Stowers then addressed DiBenedetto directly. He reminded him of the great responsibility and the high degree of expectations and standard-setting that comes with a judgeship. “To the people of your jurisdiction, the judge is the personal embodiment of our American ideal of justice,” Stowers said. He quoted Socrates who defined the qualities of a judge as “to hear courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly and to decide impartially.”
Finally, Stowers said that a good judge is a leader, “but a good judge is a servant foremost.” “A good judge shows respect to all who appear before him; he learns to hear what they say both with his mind and with his heart; a good judge is humble; he labors hard and he thinks deeply; he strives constantly to apply the law in a just and timely manner; and he readily acknowledges when he makes a mistake,” Stowers said.
He then administered the oath to Romano DiBenedetto.
Judge Roetman, in absence of DiBenedetto’s father who could not travel to Nome to perform the robing, put the black judge robe on the new judge.
DiBenedetto then received some practical advice from Chief Justice Stowers to make sure that the long robe is not caught in the rolls of a rolling chair when getting up.
Judge Roetman also addressed the new judge. He read milestones from DiBenedetto’s resumé: B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame, a law degree from the Northwestern School of Law; serving as the state’s attorney in Chicago and even working in Internal Affairs, investigating claims of public mismanagement and corruption. A TV sports show introduced DiBenedetto to the Iditarod sled dog race, which sparked a fascination with Alaska and the people who live here. “Look where you are now,” Roetman said, alluding to the fact that the court house is just down the road from the Iditarod finishing arch on Nome’s Front Street. Roetman also reminded the new judge of this unique location. “Your job as a Nome Superior Court Judge is unique from your Fairbanks colleagues because you are the only Superior Court Judge for hundreds of miles,” Judge Roetman said.
“But you are not alone, we are going to support you and we want you to succeed.”
After the robing ceremony and judge DiBenedetto joining the other judges at the bench, he had a chance for a “rebuttal”, as Chief Justice Stowers joked.
DiBenedetto stood up and said that although hailing from Chicago, he’s not a big city kid. He said he is a first generation immigrant of Italian parents and that he was sent every summer to his grandparents’ house in a small village in Italy. He talked about the custom to have sausages and cheese hanging to dry from the ceilings there. He also talked about that his priority to meet the community of Nome and to learn about this place. “Please, when you see me on the street, tell me more than your name, tell me a story about yourself,” he said.
Erica Pryzmont, representing the Nome Bar Association, and Nome Mayor Richard Beneville also said a few words of welcome during the ceremony.
Pryzmont invited DiBenedetto to poke around in the vaults for interesting records that go back to Alaska’s Territorial Days.
Beneville welcomed the new judge with the words that Nome is a town of blend. He also said that Governor Walker during a recent meeting pulled him aside and asked Beneville to give a personalized tour of Nome to the new judge.
The ceremony ended with a reception in the courthouse.