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Lifelong Fairbanksan becomes Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court

Daniel Winfree was born in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1953. In July he became the first Chief Justice...
Daniel Winfree was born in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1953. In July he became the first Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court to be born in Alaska.(John Dougherty/KTVF)
Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 4:32 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - For the first time in the history of Alaska, the position of Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court is held by someone born in the state.

Daniel Winfree was born in Fairbanks in the 1953, six years before the territory became a state. His family had been in the area for years, with his grandparents in Dawson, Yukon Territory and Alaska at the turn of the century looking for gold.

“I am just a kid from Fairbanks, I grew up on the streets, the playgrounds, the high school,” Winfree said.

Winfree was appointed to be a Supreme Court Justice in 2007 and was sworn into the position in 2008. Before that he had a long career as a lawyer in the state, practicing in Anchorage, Valdez and his hometown of Fairbanks.

Winfree said Fairbanks has grown since he was a kid. “Early childhood years, this was a pretty small town. We used to play in the streets, play baseball, broom hockey and all those kinds of things.”

Now he is helping to make decisions that affect all of the state.

Winfree said that during college he briefly thought of leaving the state, but “as it turns out, Alaska and particularly Fairbanks is in my DNA I think. I just had to come back.”

While a majority of his career was as a lawyer, Winfree said that he eventually decided that he would like doing appellate court work. He spent 13 years as a Justice, and then in July of this year he became the Chief Justice. He is now the first Chief Justice to be born in Alaska.

What does Winfree do as the Chief Justice? He said that being the Chief Justice doesn’t mean he is the king of the Supreme Court; rather, he functions like a chairman of a board.

But he said it does bring additional responsibilities. “I run the meetings, I run the oral arguments, and that is my administrative duties. I bring things to the attention of the court.”

Winfree is also now the chair of the Alaska Judicial Council that helps to select new judges.

He said being from Alaska helps him appreciate the history of the state, and come up with answers to some of the harder questions facing Alaska.

Winfree hopes he can be an inspiration to all Alaskans about what is possible. “I’m just a kid from Fairbanks and there are kids in Fairbanks now, and there are kids all across this state. Speaking to those kids - you too can be an ordinary person and have an extraordinary career and end up doing extraordinary things for the state of Alaska.”

Winfree will serve as the Chief Justice until 2023 when he will be required to retire upon reaching the age of 70.

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