SITKA, Alaska — There’s a new public defender in town.

Nathan Lockwood has taken over from Jude Pate, who is now a state appellate attorney. Pate is still in the Sitka office but will be handling appeals from across Alaska.

Lockwood’s journey to Sitka began with a revelation in Colorado and ended with a move last month from Kenai, where he has been in the public defender’s office the past four years.

In an interview with the Sentinel, Lockwood, who grew up in Soldotna, said he became a lawyer after skiing for most of his 20s in Vail, Colorado.

“I was in Vail and I turned 30,” he said. “I realized if I close my eyes again, I’ll turn 40 and still be a ski bum.”

He moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where his sister was a public defender. He attended her alma mater there, William Mitchell School of Law, but had no plans to follow her professional path.

“The idea was that I would learn the law and work for Fish and Game as an environmental lawyer,” Lockwood said. But then he took a skills class in trial advocacy, and he was hooked.

“I didn’t know I would love trial work so much,” he says. “Being a public defender is the essence of being a lawyer.”

Public defenders are assigned to cases; they don’t get to pick and choose their clients, which in a small town means they might work with defendants they’ve known for years. That was Lockwood’s experience as a public defender in Kenai, just down the road from his old home town.

“I got to know a totally different side of the town I grew up in, which had been right there all along. I was representing some of the people I went to high school with.” He added: “I have no problem defending anyone I’m assigned to,” he said. “I’m defending constitutional rights. Everyone has constitutional rights, and I feel honored to defend them.”

Lockwood said amidst his work in Sitka — and the Kenai cases he’s still finishing — he hopes to explore his new surroundings.

“I’m very outdoorsy — hiking, fishing, camping, kayaking,” he said. He brought his kayak and skis along when he moved here last month, which was the first time he had seen Sitka.

“I was super excited when I got here because it was so gorgeous,” he said. “I really like Southeast. I’d never been here, but I heard great things from Dan Poulson.” He worked with Poulson, who grew up in Sitka, when they were both public defenders in Kenai.

Lockwood may not have much time for kayaking, but he says the rewards of his job are worth the hours.

“I love my job because I get to help people,” he said. “They’re my clients because they’re having one of their worst times. I get to be there and help them and protect their rights. And it feels really good when you get a positive result for someone who hasn’t had a lot of wins.”

Information from: Daily Sitka (Alaska) Sentinel,

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