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March 10, 2023

Meet our New Staff Attorney, Beth Russo

The entire PDF in which this article appears can be found here. 

BIFOCAL: Tell us a little about your career and the issues you’ve been working on for the past few years.  

Most recently, I was the Deputy Director of Alaska’s Office of Public Advocacy.  It’s an agency that was created to act as the Public Guardian and provide representation to clients of the Public Defender Agency when it has a conflict of interest.  In the years since, the agency has been tasked with additional responsibilities such as providing representation to respondents in guardianship cases, providing guardians ad litem in child protection cases, and housing the state’s Office of Elder Fraud and Assistance. Most of my work centered on day-to-day administration and ensuring that our staff had the tools they needed to provide quality representation for our clients.  Before that position, I headed the Public Guardian’s office from 2008-2019.  Even as deputy, I remained involved in Alaska’s guardianship improvement efforts through the Alaska State Association for Guardianship and Advocacy, WINGS, and the Probate Rules Committee.

BIFOCAL: Is that what you planned when you started Law School?  

Sort of, but not quite along the path I had envisioned. I entered law school with no real desire to be a trial attorney, but I did want a law degree to work in policy.  I purposely applied to my law school because it had a dual J.D./M.P.H. program.  However, in my last year of law school, my husband and I took an opportunity to move to Alaska and there just weren’t the same variety of jobs for new attorneys there as on the East Coast.  So, after a judicial clerkship, I joined the Attorney General’s Office representing the Office of Children’s Services in child protection cases.  It turned out I really enjoyed the trial work and with my interest in public health, I eventually began representing the state in civil commitments and protective proceedings.  These opportunities lead directly to the Public Guardian’s office where I found increasing opportunities to implement and create policy.  

BIFOCAL: What has been the highlight of your career?  

I don’t know that there’s been a single highlight.  Many of my highlights have come from assisting in the implementation of successful systems improvements.  For example, I helped create a policies and procedures manual for the public guardians.  I also initiated a new formal training program for the public guardians and started the process of reorganizing the office into teams to better handle ever-increasing caseloads.  I shepherded the finalization of a long-needed regulation change that increased the maximum amount private attorneys could be paid for taking cases for which there were no staff attorneys available.   I’ve served on committees that drafted legislation to create financial abuse protective orders and update Alaska’s court rules concerning Guardianship and Conservatorship proceedings.

BIFOCAL: What interested you about this position with the Commission on Law and Aging?

Honestly, I was excited when I saw the job opening soon after I moved to the D.C. area.  I’ve long been an admirer of the Commission’s work and its commitment to ensuring the civil rights and dignity of vulnerable and older adults.  It seemed like the perfect place where I could use my skills and knowledge.

BIFOCAL: What project(s) with the Commission are you most excited about?  

I’m most excited for the attorney handbook.  I think it’s a resource that is very much needed; so many of the attorneys who are tasked with representing individuals in guardianships have had little to no training in the field.  I often wished I had such a guide to give attorneys to use as a resource when they would come to me for advice, so I’m excited to help produce one for them.

BIFOCAL: Outside of work, are there any other hobbies or interests that you are passionate about that you’d like to share?  

I like travel and exploring new places, especially through food.  I’m always eager to hear good restaurant suggestions!   I also like to run and am looking forward to participating in some spring races.  

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