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November 2016

Winter Arrives in Bethel | Philip Morris Case | Dakota Access Pipeline


The November news comes to you from Bethel, where a patch of old fashioned winter has arrived. Last winter barely dipped into below zero temps, but -10 to -15 has arrived along with a stiff breeze to remind Bethel folks that even with record setting warm temps year after year it can still get cold once in a while. Alaska still is on pace for one of the warmest years on record, and much of the state has no snow. Bethel actually has good trail conditions, and dog training has been a delight since returning from Minnesota.


ALO settled one case recently, involving a plane crash near the village of Galena. A pilot ran out of gas, and landed his wheel plane in a lake. The plane was overloaded at the time, and it flipped in the water. ALO represented his three passengers, two of which settled their claims earlier. This case featured an out of state defense lawyer who argued that his Caucasian client, the pilot from Fairbanks, could not get a fair trial from the Native residents of Galena, and asked for a change of venue to Fairbanks where he suggested the Native plaintiff could get a fair trial from the fine folks of that city. The judge, who has handled jury trials all over the state of Alaska, was not pleased by that argument and told the lawyer why. That argument allowed ALO for the first time in over 40 years of practice to state, on the record, that the opposing lawyer was racist.


Another major case went to trial in October and November, which resulted in a hung jury. This account describes the result quite well. ALO took part in the jury selection process, and also consulted during the trial with the excellent trial team representing Philip Morris. This was a retrial of the case, after Philip Morris won the first trial five years ago but the judge ordered a second trial after long post trial arguments. There are indications now that plaintiff will seek a third trial as well. One of the primary issues in the trial is whether or not the deceased smoker relied on misleading advertising which caused him to continue smoking, leading to his lung cancer and death.


There were many expert witnesses called in the Philip Morris case, and that brought back a fond memory of one such expert from a case almost 40 years ago. ALO was involved as co-counsel on a murder case arising out of the village of Grayling, an Athabascan Indian village on the Yukon River north of Bethel. Anchorage counsel hired a Harvard trained psychiatrist to conduct an investigation in the village regarding the defendant's mental health. ALO was asked to go along to introduce the expert.


One of the planned stops was to talk to community leader Henry Deacon, a friendly and witty man who happened to be walking through town. The introduction went something like this: "Henry, this is Doctor Jones, a psychiatrist trained at Harvard, who wants to interview you about the man who is facing trial for murder next month." Henry looked the man over top to bottom and said "Why would a smart doctor from Harvard come all the way to Grayling to talk to a dumb Indian like me?"


The Harvard man thought Henry meant what he said, and went on for several minutes explaining that although he may be from Harvard, he was sure that there were some things that Henry could tell him that would be important for the case. Henry now lives in Anchorage, and is still a good friend. He and his wife Dolly provided wonderful hospitality during the 1979 Iditarod, when they allowed a weary musher a couple of huge meals, a warm bed, and a place for Nick, the Red Setter lead dog to spend the night inside. And yes, Henry still can fool any smart city guy from Harvard.


Speaking of Indians, the North Dakota oil pipeline issue hits close to home for ALO. Alaskans know quite a bit about oil companies, oil spills, and how some white folks view Native Americans. ALO has handled a few oil spill cases, and of course the Exxon Valdez spill is well known to most Americans. Many Alaskans have traveled to North Dakota to lend support, and Andy's girlfriend Elizabeth Aarons is headed there shortly as a medical volunteer. Another friend, Shelley Gill from Homer is there as well, providing regular reports on Facebook. None of the Alaskans involved are paid for their time and expense. They are all there to support the tribes involved and to stand up to the combined efforts of the oil companies and the local government.


Here is the problem from the ALO point of view. This is not a fight about energy independence. The world is awash in oil, and that's why the price of gas is down. This is a fight about oil company greed. A cautious approach to energy right now would be to leave oil in the ground until there is a shortage. Many North Dakota oil folks are doing just that, and the boom is slowing dramatically. But making a quick buck is the American way and if a group of Indian tribes gets in the way, mow them down. Racial comments on news stories out of North Dakota are disgusting. With Native family members, Native clients, and Native friends and neighbors there is no tolerance for what is happening in North Dakota around ALO. Treaty rights should mean something, and they are routinely ignored. One of the most telling facts in the North Dakota dispute is the decision to re-route the pipeline away from Bismarck because of risk to the city water supply. When the tribes raised the same concern, bulldozers and cops moved in. The oil boom has ruined a significant portion of North Dakota, and the risks from fracking might continue for generations.


America has a President-elect that wants to cut taxes on the richest Americans, and to pay for that has selected cabinet members who want to cut Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid, and social security. In simple terms that means the poorest segment of the population will fund a tax cut for the richest. No one making $250,000 or more needs to pay less taxes. Any rich guy who claims otherwise is a greedy bastard. There is no proper word for a billionaire who asks for a tax break. There are a lot of poor people around the country who voted for Trump and survive only because of the programs now on the chopping block. Get ready for a rough ride.


Interesting that VP-elect Mike Pence does not believe in evolution but does believe in gay conversion therapy. He has not stated whether he believes in moron conversion therapy.

On the subject of morons, how about this 1970's story from the ALO crime history annals. A Bethel policeman stopped an obvious drunk driver who was swerving into the wrong lane and went through a stop sign. He asked the driver to perform field sobriety tests which he failed badly. "I'm going to have to arrest you sir". The driver, who later hired ALO, asked what was going to happen to his car now parked along the main Bethel road, maybe a half mile from the driver's home. "You can drive it home and I will pick you up there."

That case never made it to trial.


This month's mandatory moose is a classic.

Not making the cut was a photo of two dead moose locked in battle and frozen in ice. That picture was shared so many places it no longer qualified for the news. This shot of an elderly musher on a cold windy day near Bethel was taken by Steve Olive.



Finally, this cartoon accurately depicts current thinking on a very important point.



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