Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Alaska Superior Court Judge Mark Wood Stepping Down To Accept A Call To Serve As An LDS Missionary; But Will Return To Fairbanks Upon Conclusion

On February 10th, 2009, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the Rabinowitz Courthouse in Fairbanks, Alaska will suddenly lose over 20 years combined judicial experience this summer. District Court Judge Winston Burbank plans to retire in August 2009 to join the board of directors of the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

But Superior Court Judge Mark Wood is retiring in July to undertake a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Wood knows what he's getting into; he previously served as a missionary in Washington D.C., in the early 1970s. This time, he has an advantage over most missionaries; he gets to bring his wife. The location and type of mission has not yet been disclosed; it is quite possible he may be called to serve as a mission president because of his background and experience.

Wood, a former prosecutor, has more judicial experience than his five colleagues on the Superior Court combined, and the decision wasn't easy. “It was a hard decision,” said Wood of writing his December 31st letter of resignation. “It’s very hard to leave your career and your identity and to jump into things that are less known”. But with his children grown, he and his wife decided to do something different. The 61-year-old is nine years shy of the mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges.

But Wood is not leaving Fairbanks permanently. Upon his return, he'll make himself available to the court system as a substitute judge. Wood was originally appointed to the Superior Court in 2002 by Gov. Tony Knowles after working almost 10 years as a District Court judge. Ironically, the other retiring judge, Burbank, was Wood’s lower court replacement.

Both judges are highly regarded. District Court Judge Jane Kauvar said both men will be dearly missed. Kauvar is the senior judge at the Rabinowitz Courthouse. She was appointed to the bench in 1981. Kauvar worked opposite Wood as a public defender when Wood was a prosecutor, and vouches for Wood's work ethic. Prior to his most recent retention election in 2006, the Alaska Judicial Council rated him as "Qualified" and recommended a vote for his retention; his scorecard indicates he connected particularly well with jurors and court employees.

The Superior Court job pays $167,400 a year and prospective replacements must have practiced law in Alaska for the last five years. The position on the District Court pays $142,152 a year and applicants must have practiced law here for the last three years or worked as an Alaska magistrate for seven years. Both jobs require residency in Alaska during the last five years.

Missionaries are called by the LDS Church to either proselyting missions or service missions. Terms of service can vary, but currently are 24 months. For young men who reach 19 years of age, it is almost a universal rite of passage, although service is strictly voluntary. But during their Aaronic Priesthood apprenticeship, which begins at age 12, young men are meticulously prepared and strongly motivated towards full-time missionary service. Upon reaching age 18, they then have the Melchizedek Priesthood conferred upon them, and are ordained to the office of an Elder, after which a mission call is extended to them.

Women are also eligible to serve as missionaries, but are generally not called automatically. At the age of 21 or older, they must specifically volunteer for a mission to be considered. They make their desires known to their ward bishop, who forwards their names for consideration to Church headquarters. Women missionaries aren't just for decoration; they preach and serve just like the men, except they can't exercise Priesthood power or the functions associated with it, such as baptism or ministration to the sick.

Older couples can also volunteer for missions. Because of their background and experience, they will frequently be called to mission presidencies, where they can also provide guidance to younger missionaries. But all missionaries will begin their missions with a stop at the Missonary Training Center (MTC) nearest their home. All American missionaries attend the MTC in Provo, Utah. Click HERE for more of an overview about the Missionary Training Center, as well as links to posts covering other aspects of missionary life. You can also visit the LDS Mission Network website to learn more about LDS missions.

The majority of active LDS who serve a mission look back upon the experience with satisfaction and even fondness. Missionary service is not unlike two years of military boot camp, but without the cursing and the PT. The shared service and sacrifice knits bonds of brotherhood not unlike those enjoyed by combat veterans who serve together in conflict.


Anonymous said...

Judge Wood is a great judge. I've had him in half a dozen cases up in Fairbanks and he's always been on top of things. I never did get to go through a jury trial with him. I had no idea of his age. He looks to be in his early 40's. All that clean living I suppose.

Anonymous said...

I used to work as the courthouse security guard. I will say this, of all the people there, I liked Judge Wood and Magistrate Hammers. When either one had to stay over time to get stuff done, Judge Wood was the fastest one to get things done, while Magistrate Hammers came in a very close second. As the previous commenter has stated, I too did not think of him being 61 years old! He looked young, every time I saw him he had a positive attitude.
Judge Wood, keep on trucking man, you are too young to leave us anytime soon.