(From the Alaska Bar Rag 2006, Issues 1 & 2)
In memory of Barbara, Larry and Rick: For golden friends I had
By Bev Cutler
Twenty years ago, the following reminiscence was published in the Bar Rag as a memorial to three former assistant Public Defenders who died at unrelated times in the 1980's. All three were young, but not unheralded.
Bill Bryson's recent passing caused many Alaska lawyers to revisit both the times described in the article, as well as the subject of criminal defense work. While the article obliquely mentions Bill, the scant references therein belie the extent to which Bill inspired at least two decades of public defenders coming through the ranks after him.
His passing has caused me to re-focus on those years that were the beginning of my now long life in Alaska, and to reminisce on my fellow young lawyers from those days, who were so wonderfully deep-seeing, hard-working, fun-loving, serious-minded, never-to-be-forgotten idols to those of us lucky enough to be here still, and who continue to inspire us in the variety of legal fields we have chosen.
To all of them I dedicate this republishing. In honor of Bill, I add three more tidbits of gossip. First, Bill really wasn't that much of a gourmet, at least not originally. When I first came to the Agency, within an hour of my arrival, he came by to see who the new "chick" was in the third office down from his, and found me cleaning out the drawers to jettison stuff left by the previous attorney, Ame Ivanov. I was pulling out a can of Planter's peanuts when he came in. I pitched it expertly into the trashcan, basketball style, not yet knowing Bill's love for the sport. He immediately pulled the can out of the trashcan, popped off the lid (it was open already), and started eating the peanuts, even though the can had been open so long they were all stuck to the bottom. His words to me were, "They can't be that old. She didn't last here that long!"
Then I remember a day shortly thereafter when the office was empty at 3:00 in the afternoon. I wandered out to the secretaries' area, to drop off a motion, and noticing our loneliness, inquired. Only Barbara Miracle, Ann Arnce, Joann Denson and I remained, Ann and Joann being our faithful and incredibly productive secretaries. I was told that they (meaning all the guys, led by Bill) had gone to the airport to pick up some "girl" who had interned at the office the summer before and was making a return. We proceeded to discuss how lame men were to presume that six or seven of them were needed to pick up one woman at the airport. My jealousy was short-lived, however, as later that day I had the privilege of meeting Nancy Shaw (the arrivee) and we became lifelong friends.
My final bit of historical trivia should not be read by the easily offended-but then the hallmark of a successful public defender is a thick skin. Nancy Shaw, Barbara Miracle, and I soon were followed at the agency by a series of ambitious attorneys of the female rank. At one point, unprecedented at the time, all five attorneys comprising the misdemeanor section (in Anchorage) were female: Elaine Andrews, Dana Fabe, Deborah Paquette, Christine Schleuss, and Deborah Smith. Bill blithely nicknamed them "The Ovary Section." The name stuck.
I still get a lump in my throat when the jury enters the courtroom to return a verdict.
As a public defender, I dreaded those minutes. The D.A. stood there anticipating the kill. The judge secretly gloated. Even the in-court clerk looked smug as she took the paper from the foreman. Everyone in the courtroom was against us. And it by chance it were a Not Guilty verdict, suddenly I became the new criminal.
Time has changed my perception of judges and clerks, for obvious reasons. But, public defenders have not changed. They are as tough as ever, and still as paranoid - though perhaps with good cause. Public defending is one of the most thankless tasks in Alaska. It also is one of the most inspired.
Recently a Palmer P.D. got a client out on bail Friday, only to find him back in for murder on Saturday. It reminded me of my first year at the agency when the identical thing happened to me. Twice. I was tempted to comfort the P.D. by noting that someone else would have gotten the man out on bail if he had not. But the P.S. didn't want solace. As far as he was concerned, his client was only accused of murder.
This is the tradition of public defending as it has been, and as it should be - no apologies, no crying, and no guilty clients. All new P.D.'s learn these precepts from their mentors at the agency. They also learn that victory is relative, that wit is survival, and that Cicero knew what he was talking about when he advised "When you have no basis for an argument, abuse the plaintiff."
I was thus encouraged over a decade ago by Larry Kulik, by Rick Lindsley, and especially by Barbara Miracle, who was the only woman in the agency when I signed on in the spring of 1975.
Alaska journey begins
I did not come to Alaska to work for the P.D. agency, but events seemed to push me in that direction from the moment I arrived.
The previous year I drove to Alaska on a whim - and in defiance of parental warnings that neither the trip nor the destination were appropriate for a lone female. Barbara Miracle came to Alaska a few years earlier, under similar circumstances. We both were from Washington D.C., from "establishment" families, and in fact had played basketball opposite each other at rival girls' schools. (I realize that given our height, that sounds improbable!)
I had been attracted to Alaska by an ad on a bulletin board. Bob Hicks, then director of the Judicial Council, needed someone to do the grunt work on an LEAA-funded study of bail and sentencing for the court system. A law school soul mate urged me on, promising to come to Alaska if he ever graduated. It was spring and I hadn't decided what to when school ended. I took the job, sight unseen. It was a perfect match.
Anchorage was a surprise, however, I had never seen so many used car lots. And the cars in them looked so American. I had anticipated a foreign place, or at least a city with more intrigue.
I followed directions to a green duplex on 12th between O and P. There I found Bob Hicks moving a washing machine, and Brian Shortell giving orders as to where it should go. Bob was in the process of moving outward and upward to Turnagain.
The green apartments were to become a prominent feature of those first years in Anchorage. Scores of law clerk and public defender parties were held there. They were inhabited at various interludes by Bob, Brian Shortell, Barbara Miracle, Margie Mock, and Chris Schleuss. My early familiarity with the area proved invaluable - after any party I always managed to find my way home.
Law review classrooms
Barbara was already an Alaska legend when I arrived, though all she had done officially was be a law clerk for Justice Connor and then depart for Europe. We met when I took the Bar Review that winter with Steve Hart, who was Barbara's other self. Our bar review course was a tale in itself.
The class was small, only 18 people. Among the regulars in attendance were Mary Hughes and Dave Walsh. Among the irregulars were Tim Stearns and George Peck. Also in the class was Mark Weaver, the law school soul mate who finally graduated.
The bar review people didn't use bright young, inspiring lawyers for teachers then. They used judges.
The night we were to learn about civil procedure, the judge arrived promptly at 7:00 p.m., armed with the blue book. His teaching method was to read the rules, out loud. He started with Rule 1. He stopped after each reading for a proper discussion of the rule. By 10 minutes to eight, it was apparent that we would mot reach Rule 30 by midnight.
Steve passed us a note, suggesting that we leave right away to catch the beginning of Five Easy Pieces at the Polar Twins. He figured we could watch the whole movie and still get back in time, if we felt like it, for the last 60 or 70 rules. The record should reflect that we left but did not return that evening. Some people claim that my knowledge of civil procedures still has a few gaps in it.
At the P.D. agency
My first contact with the Public Defender Agency came when I decided to do some token interviews for the LEAAA study. People had hinted that I could travel and see the state that way. Bob suggested that colorful interviews might be had with Justin Ripley, then an assistant D.A., and Larry Kulik, they a P.D. Unfortunately all I got to see when I interviewed with them was Fourth Avenue.
The P.D. office was a bit intimidating. It had a side alley entrance above the Fur Traders - a known target for burglars. I walked up an eerie staircase to a vacant receptionist desk. I sat down on a chair that apparently had seen a lot of use. I did not hear any voices.
It turned out that the office only appeared abandoned. The fort was manned by Larry Phil Weidner, Irwin Ravin (of Ravin v. State) and Bill Bryson. Due to a recent staff exodus, they were attempting to cover 12 courtrooms with only 4 lawyers. Alex Bryner, Bruce Bookman and Brian Shortell recently had left to form Bookman, Bryner & Shortell. Somewhat earlier Collin Middleton, Mike Rubinstein and Bob Wagstaff had gone off to form Wagstaff, Middleton & Rubinstein. For history buffs, the original Public Defender Agency, circa 1970, consisted of Vic Carlson, Jim Gilmore, Collin Middleton, and Frank Kernana.
I did eventually get to talk to Larry. His comments on the local judges' bail and sentencing practices were thought-provoking, but not printable.
My interview with Larry was followed my trip to Juneau, where I was blessed to receive an audience with Dan Hickey. Dan at the time was a mere D.A., with only one subordinate, Ivan Lawner. When I asked Dan about the sentencing process in Juneau, he swiveled back in his chair, puffed out his chest, pointed at himself, and said "You wanna know who makes the sentencing decisions down here? I make the sentencing decisions down here!" It may have been then that I decided to become a public defender.
Herb Soll, magnet
Not long afterward, I ran into Herb Soll. Some people will not believe this, but Herb was in the law library. He was not completely out of character however - he did have on his rose colored glasses.
I was hard at work, writing a report on sentencing that to my knowledge no one except Barry Stern has ever read.
Some of you may have never heard of Herb, at least not until the recent rumor that he might return to the state to become chief prosecutor. Herb was the second person to head the public defender agency. Vic Carlson was the first. Herb later became a judge in the Mariana Islands.
Herb was magnetic. So magnetic that right there in the library he talked me into accepting a position in the Kenai P.D. office, then a one-lawyer hangout, when I had neither been to Kenai nor been in court for so much as an arraignment. Fortunately, an intern in the Anchorage office, Bob Coan, wanted the position in Kenai and passed the bar just in time to get me a reprieve.
Arrival at the P.D.'s
When I arrived at the agency for my first day of work a few months later, the irreverent remarks of Larry Kulik were still in my mind. Larry had quit the agency but was knocking around the office, as most former public defenders do.
The place was not lacking for character. Larry was bragging about how he had been arrested in Federal Court the day before for making an off-color comment about some thing Judge Plummer had done. Everyone agreed he was simply in the wrong place - the hallway of the Federal Courthouse - next to the wrong person - the G.S.A. guard.
The agency's offices had just moved to the state court building, to the area that now houses Probate. Bill Bryson had snapped up the large office with the plush rug toward the back. It was the only one that would accommodate his classy furniture. The side rooms were occupied by Rick Lindsley, Frank Koziol, Olof Hellen, and Ben Esch. Ron Drathman took up at least two offices toward the frost. I could tell Barbara's den by all the shoes under the desk.
The directory board listed Phil Weidner as the Appeals Division, but I was not introduced to anyone by that name. Later someone identified him for me as the guy bobbling around on a cane. I had thought he was a client.
Denizens of the defender agency
Rick Lindsley took me under his wing figuratively of course. Otherwise, I would have been crushed. Rick had been a linebacker at Stanford. His stature bespoke this. I think it gave confidence to his clients and may have intimidated the opposition.
Rick was a person whose success with both jurors and clients derived from his ability to hide his intelligence. He was warm yet unyielding - practical but philosophical - and virtuous yet shrewd.
Rick was the instigator of the "Herb who?" jokes. He and Olaf were recognized as the de facto heads of the office, because Herb was always off in Brazil or Bali, or some other exotic place. Sometimes a lawyer would inquire as to where Herb was, or as to what advice Herb would give if there. With a perfectly straight face, Rick would answer, "Herb who?" He did not mean to malign Herb, but Rick had worked with Vic, and Vic had set a precedent for head P.D.'s being down in the trenches like everyone else. Herb's strengths were in other areas, such as finessing the politicians in Juneau to get us money.
Misdemeanor attorneys like myself did not necessarily get offices (I shared with Bruce Abramson) but we did get files. In fact, Barbara generously gave me all hers when I arrived because she was moving into felonies. As for training, Herb actually sat through a portion of my first trial with me. A portion.
Unfortunately he was not present at the outset when I most needed help in selecting the jury, having never seen that done before. An intern came to my rescue - Walter Share. Together we double-teamed Gene Cyrus until I found my sea legs.
Actually I had already had one trial, on my second day of work, but it had been a non-jury affair. It was before Judge Brewer. It followed on the heels of what was euphemistically called an in-chambers conference. The mad-dog prosecuting attorney, Mike Keenan, had insisted that my client plead to shoplifting a pair of sunglasses and a watchband from Penney's, total value $6, in exchange for 15 days in jail.
It might as well have been life. I was new and bold. My client had been unable to make bail because he was a Native from the bush. I told Keenan we'd o to trial the next afternoon if he'd let the defendant out on bail overnight to help me prepare.
Early the next day, Barbara urged me to send an investigator down to the Army-Navy store to see if it sold watchbands identical to the one in evidence. The investigator was to determine whether a customer could walk off with such a purchase in his shirt pocket, without a receipt. This was not merely fact finding on Barbara's part, but bore some resemblance to the scenario the client had described in justifying his possession of the watchband.
I soon regretted the bail negotiation. My client had gone out and had a big evening. He fell asleep in my office promptly upon arrival. I wondered if it was ethical to spend your own money on a sandwich for a client. What the heck - I had the impression you could pull out all the stops for a trial. Restored, he made it up to the court room. He was awake when the witness from the Army-Navy store testified. I then asked for a recess, to take my client out in the hallway to rehearse his testimony. I explained to him that I would ask where he got the watchband. He interrupted, volunteering that is came from "N.C." (now Nordstrom.) I wanted to scream. "Don't you see I just had this fellow come down here to testify because you said:!" He must have seen the look on my face. "Naw" he corrected, "I don't like N.C. It came from Army-Navy store!"
We went back in. In retrospect, it doesn't' seem likely that Judge Brewer really listened to the testimony. However, he found reasonable doubt as the watchband, though not as to the sunglasses, and sentenced my client to only 10 days in jail. Barbara couldn't believe it.
A new system
There was that year, as always, a new calendaring system being implemented by the court. The felony attorneys were divided into teams to accommodate it. There was the Occhipinti team, the Moody team, and what Barbara always referred to as Pete's team - Kalamarides.
The lawyers on the Occipinti team vented their spleen by calling him "Ockee-pintee." This they had learned from Larry. I saw that his antagonism toward judges and others had a simple explanation. Larry was extremely gifted intellectually but got frustrated, to put it mildly, when dealing with those of more ordinary ability.
Occipinti once threatened to come down off the bench and duke it out with Larry. The incident offered during a jury selection. Larry as usual had been goading the judge with mistrial motions. Occipinti had just finished explaining why the most recent motion had been denied. Larry remarked, "If you want to call that rationale process reasoning--." Occipinti exploded. "Mr. Kulik, I have a mind to come down off the bench and get you!" There was a pause. "I agree now that you have prejudiced me in this case:.I'm going to grant your motion for mistrial." Larry looked deliberately vague. "What motion?" he inquired. "I'm perfectly happy with this jury!" It would have been an interesting match. "They were both over six feet, and Larry was heavy set for a marathoner.
The self-appointed head of the Moody team was Ron Drathman. He and Moody went round the block a few times too, but in friendlier fashion.
Moody once ordered Ron and another lawyer to come backstage because Moody was disgruntled with the way they were dressed. Ron's shirt tails were all stuck out, and the other fellow had no tie. Moody was generously hunting through his office for an extra tie when Ron noticed that the judge himself was padding around in bedroom slippers. "Why we're in a fine fix!" quipped Ron. We've got a P.D. with no coat, a lawyer with no tie, and a judge with no shoes!" Moody just grinned. He could ignore a good point out of court just as well as in!
How to continue, and other tricks
The first thing Barbara taught me to do was how to move for a continuance. The second was how to get it non-op'd. This was bedrock strategy. As Phil Weidner pointed out, the State could hardly convict your client if you could keep him out of the courtroom.
Barbara was a master at continuances. I learned the meaning of the term state-of-the-art from her motions. If a defendant's key witness had not been subpoenaed, it was because our funds had been cut. If an investigator had not yet interviewed the victims, it was because they were recuperating in Hawaii the one day he called. If the client were a woman, Barbara had a long list of unmentionable female problems that could be waved in the judge's face. No wonder the D.A.s dreaded getting a case with Barbara on the other side.
It was a snap to get a motion non-opt'd back then. We waited for the assigned D.A. to leave the office for a few minutes, then gave the papers to Alice, our secretary, to take up the back stairs to Jum Gould. Our theory was that he would sign anything that Alice brought in because her presence distracted him completely. The one drawback to this procedure was that Alice often stayed up there a couple of hours. We were forgiving. We all liked Jim Gould tremendously, even if he was a D.A.
Rick's specialty was demonstrative evidence. I believe Rick is the only defense attorney in the world to get an onion into evidence in a first degree murder trial.
His female client was charged with stabbing an ex-lover. She claimed that he stormed through the door while she was peeling the onion. (As she shut the door in his face, the knife just happened to go through his checkbook and into his lung.) The key question was who opened the door first. Rick argued that no one could open the door with an onion in one hand and a large knife in the other. Naturally P.D. investigator Bob Kintzele selected a rather large onion for this purpose. The only difficulty was getting the exhibit sticker to stay on - the skin kept peeling off.
Ron Drathman showed us how to get our clients properly dressed for trial. He once urged an elderly black defendant charged with murder to wear his jail clothes to court on the morning of jury selection. Judge Kalamaridies came unglued. "You can't try a man for fist degree murder dressed like that!" He sent the jury back downstairs and ordered everyone at the defense table off to the nearest men's store which happened to be Stallone's.
Ron directed the defendant to the $100 suits, but the defendant kept reaching for the $400 imports. When they got back to court, the jury had to be re-instructed as to who was the defense attorney, and who was the defendant.
It was Larry who taught us how not to spring a trap on the opposition. Once Larry was so tickled with a ploy he dreamed up mid-trial that he started confiding it to everyone in the hallway who would listen. Unfortunately, one person willing to lend an ear was the D.A.'s mother.
Another time, Larry was chomping at the bit to expose prosecutor Bill Mackey, known to carry a gun. He was going to do it while the jury was present. In a case where a defendant recently acquitted of multiple murders was being tried for transportation of dynamite. He requested to approach the bench, with the idea of asking for a censure in a loud whisper, while pulling back Mackey's coat tail to expose the weapon. Upon arriving at the bench, Larry noticed a .45 of the judge's laying inches away, ready for action if needed. Larry sheepishly mumbled that he had nothing after all, and went slinking back to his table.
We always needed tips on what to do when we were unprepared. Rick waxed inventive here too. In one Kenai misdemeanor, where he hadn't time to read the file, he discovered on the morning of the trial that his client had a hearing problem. Rick decided to holler his way through the jury selection. This provoked Magistrate Jess Nicholas, who demanded an explanation. Rick calmly noted that his client could not hear unless he yelled. Nicholas thereupon dismissed the case, declaring that he was not going to tolerate a "yelling" trial.
Other P.D. antics
We never lacked for excitement. At one trial of Rick's, the defendant escaped from the courthouse in the middle of the night. It happened after an 11 p.m. verdict, when Judge Kalamardies remanded the poor chap to custody and then decided it was time to go home. The judge left Rick and P.D. investigator Fred Biere in charge until a police officer could get there.
The defendant decided that he had to take a whiz. Fred decided he had to take a whiz too. Together, they went to a place in the courthouse where men do this.
There were two stalls. The defendant finished up quickly and walked out. Fred could not do much about it at the time - he had to "finish up" too. By the time Fred could get to the hallway, the defendant was nowhere to be found.
Some months later, the client turned himself in. He accounted for his absence on record by noting that he had not wanted to miss the intervening fishing season.
It was Rick and Bill Bryson who decided that P.D.'s ought to have some time out too. Together they started the first rotation, on/six-months off. Rick and Liz had an apple farm in California that was their secret retirement haven. Eventually Rick decided the Juneau office was closer for this purpose, and became the head P.D. there. Bryson, of course, just traveled.
While Rick was on his first leave, Phil left to defend George Lustig on a federal drug charge. I think Phil was momentarily tired of dreaming up appellate arguments. Perhaps it was because the State had begun to tape record all drug buys and none of us could think of a way to attack them. (The Glass rationale had not yet been thought of. Most of us would have been too embarrassed to make that argument even if we had thought of it, for fear of getting laughed out of the courtroom! Phil now claims that he raised it several times, and that it was one of the frivolous motions they used to yell at him for.)
Barbara took over appeals from Phil when he departed. Once again, I inherited her files. I watched her finish her last trial, to see if I could get the flavor of her caseload and a handle on her style. Steve came with me to watch.
The charge was rape. It was 6:00 at night in Courtroom G, before Judge Singleton. As we walked in, the judge and lawyers were arguing over the last of the jury instructions.
Barbara was making an objection, probably her 300th of the trial. Singleton asked for grounds. Barbara flopped down in a huff, indignant that any judge would ask for grounds , especially at that hour. "I don't know!" she retorted. "I just object!" Singleton promptly ruled in her favor.
It was a good thing that Singleton couldn't read her thoughts, and that the courtrooms then did not have the sensitive mikes that they do now. A transcript probably would have contained a few four-letter words. Barbara was diminutive in size, but could make real men blush when the going got tough.
My friend Mark ended up working at the agency too, having been in the right place at the right time when Ben Esch decided to move on. Mark greatly admired Barbara's audacity. From her he got the gumption to refuse to do misdemeanors, after only three weeks on the job. He couldn't seem to master the art of interviewing clients whose files contained neither a complaint nor a police report. He jumped right into felonies, with Barbara for guidance.
Barbara and Mark both subscribed to the theory that confidence came from having a complete case file, and spreading it all over your office, and the breakfast table. Never mind that the omnibus hearing might start in ten minutes. Once I conceded to Mark that Barbara was living proof that clutter was a sign of genius. I have been paying for it ever since.
One felony that Mark and Barbara collaborated on was a treasure. It was another rape. Three of them, in fact. (Later the case gave the Supreme Court the opportunity to re-educate us about joinder and severance.) Mark and Barbara were optimistic because only the first two counts had been joined for trial.
The defense, to all three, was alibi. In two out of three counts, the victims had said the rapist drove a brown car. In a different two out of three, the victims reported that the rapist was wearing white shoes.
The defendant's wife drove him to court on the morning of jury selection, in a brown car. Needless to say, he was wearing white patent leather shoes.
It was 9:45. They were due in court at 10:00. The only attorney in the office was Chris Rigos, who was more prudish than most. Mark tried to negotiate a trade. Barbara added her enthusiasm. She claimed to have once given her blouse to a hooker before a trial, because hers had buttons in the necessary places and the hooker's did not. Finally Chris gave in with a grin.
Chris spent the rest of the day in his stocking feet, however. He wasn't about to wear the client's shoes. Too bad neither Bruce Abramson nor Craig Cornish was around that day. Either one of them would have relished the opportunity.
Barbara had her own problems with shoes. There were always millions in her office, but two minutes before her Supreme Court argument in Zehrung she could not find two that made a pair. With the clock counting down to 15 seconds, Chris Schleuss found a matching one - in Barbara's in-basket.
Brian Shortell took over the agency toward the end of '75. He was a splendid boss, never getting in your way, generally being there when there was a problem. When we were bursting with emotions, Brian remained impassive, almost nonchalant. His sanity came from sneaking out of the office frequently to carouse with Alex and Larry.
Brian attracted a lot of new faces, including Jeff Feldman, Eric Sanders, John Murtagh, and John Suddock. Grant Callow and Brant McGee showed up as interns, and Pete Mysing returned as a real lawyer.
Jeff Feldman was the fist and only P.D. to go home every night at ten of five with his desk clean. He also wrote law review articles on the side. John Suddock and John Murtagh and the rest of us worked on Saturdays because we spent the time from 4:30 till 6:30 every night decompressing - i.e. telling court stories. It was fun, at least until we remembered we had to go to the jail on our way home. On Fridays there was always popcorn and beer. Folks from offices around town would stop by.
Eric was a study in contrasts. He wore a different suit to the office every day, yet managed to portray the resigned, macabre P.D. spirit at its best. He set a record in the department when he planned and hosted something called "Gary Gilmore's Last New Year's Eve Party," inviting all the D.A.'s and half of the Anchorage bar.
Some people got John Murtagh and I mixed up. From the back that is, and only on Saturdays, when I tied my hair in a ponytail too. Naturally we all wore identical faded Levis, but only John had a Wisconsin Indian Legal Services T-shirt.
Murtagh's shirt prompted us to create a T-shirt for ourselves. With the help of investigator Dave Suwal, we held a contest for this purpose. Mark created the winning design, which featured the scales of justice upsetting a portly police figure plagiarized from a Monopoly game "Get out of Jail Free" card. Chris Rigos provided the slogan -"A reasonable doubt at a reasonable price." Second place went to a client of mine. She proposed a fist, with the middle finger uplifted, and the motto "The Public Defender:a helpful hand."
John Suddock was a steadying influence. He also had a forte that allowed him to last more years at the agency than most people. He excelled at taking naps. Some people thought he was just enigmatically quiet. This may explain the fine reputation enjoyed years later by the law firm of Kulik, Suddock & Hart. Frank Koziol already had proved that a P.D. could be quiet yet still effective, but that was because Frank always was working on the Salazar brief.
Days of parties
There were some great parties in those days. Perhaps the most in(famous) was held at Doug Pope's house - now the home of our illustrious mayor - immediately following the Erickson arguments. The statute of limitations probably has run. Another was Norman Bresman's goodbye, when Colleen Ray met John Murtagh for the first time, just as he passed out face down in our dog's water dish. And there was a Halloween party, where Steve Hart came as Judge Moody, complete with glasses, robe, and bare ankles, and Barbara came as a defendant, dressed in jail blues, handcuffed to him.
Hidden talents came out at some of these events. Bruce Abramson did imitations of judges - Judge Brewer in particular - that merited an Oscar. Larry revealed himself as a gourmet cook. Larry was proud of himself in this regard, and justifiably so. Moreover, he took the presence of junk food as a personal affront, to the point where Barbara would bring the cheapest jug wines just to watch his reaction. Larry was so enamored of good food that while representing Charles Meach in his first case, in the 70's, Larry catered dinners from the Captain Cook to eat in the courthouse holding cell while they went over the trial strategy. (Meach's father paid the bill.) Larry also entertained us with stories about how he had been a yellow cab driver - in Oakland - during law school.
The fun always ended but the stream of clients never did. Their problems were endless. Their families were tactless. Every one expected victory. Worse, they trusted us to pull it off. The phones never stopped jangling at us. The D.A.'s never stopped denying our motions. For these and other reasons, sooner of later most P.D.'s move on.
Many depart by going out strong - leaving after handling a big case. I think now its called burnout. Some attorneys, including Barbara and I, left less dramatically. We merely had new job offers.
I was swimming laps in the pool in the basement of the Captain Cook when the idea of applying for District Court came to me. It seemed time for a change. I was almost tired of Larry coming by on Friday afternoons to ridicule the cheap popcorn and store-bought onion dip. It was mid '77.
District Court Judge Dorothy Tyner had retired, leaving the Anchorage bench devoid of female verve. The agency seemed well supplied. We had Sue Ellen Tatter, Chris Schleuss, Mary Ellen Ashton, and Debbie Smith. Nancy Shaw had made a return. Mary Killorin and Colleen Ray also were there in body and spirit though not yet on the payroll.
I got lucky. Thanks to the back-patting and stamp-licking of all of the above people, Governor Hammond was convinced that an ex-P.D. would not spring all the deadbeats from jail if appointed to the bench. Alex Bryner especially helped in this regard, by example.
Alex had been appointed to District Court by Hammond a few years earlier. Recently Alex had been called in the middle of the night to set bail on an armed robber. Groggily, he inquired of the police officer how much had been taken in the robbery. The officer thought it was $12.00. "Fine," said Alex, I'll set the bail at $12.00." "Excuse me?" said the officer. "You heard me -- $12.00!" bellowed Alex, and hung up the phone.
The defendant still was in jail at arraignment time the next day. Obviously is had been a reasonable bail.
It was hard to leave the agency. My last hearing was a Supreme Court argument I'd been waiting to do for six months. I was to be sworn in as a judge within a few days.
Fifteen minutes before the argument, I was staring at my office walls, fighting off the usual pre-argument jitters and trying to remember what the case was about. Barbara was giving me pointers. I received a sudden summons to the fifth floor. I thought this peculiar. It seemed a strange time to congratulate me and welcome me to the brethren of the judiciary. I now realize the Chief Justice likely hadn't read his calendar and may have had no idea I was about to appear before them.
Pride cometh before a fall.
I was ushered into the Chief's office. He proceeded to point out that the criminal code had not yet been revised to eliminate cohabitation as a felony, and that I would have to make immediate adjustments in my living situation so as not to compromise the integrity of the judiciary. The shock was just what I needed to gather my wits. The argument went off without a hitch.
There still remained the "integrity" problem, however. Regardless of the obvious double standard, I was not up to a public battle. Moreover, at that stage of my career, it did not seem easy to ignore the directives of a chief justice.
I sought out Alex Bryner to cry on his shoulder. He was short on ideas, but did offer to waive the 3-day waiting period for a marriage license. I thought about it for at least a minute. Sue Ellen recently had married Larry, and she'd survived. What the heck. Alex issued us a formal certificate, declaring that "hardship circumstances" existed.
It was September. Mark was in the midst of leaving for Cordova, where he and Jay Warner, then juvenile intake officer, had scheduled some children's proceedings so they could go duck hunting. Mark had been waiting for a month to try out a new gun. He didn't see any reason to change his plans. I barely made the plane.
Mary Wentworth married us a few hours later, after the children's proceedings but before any hunting. It was later summed up by Tom Tatka in the following release:
The groom wore hip boots over L.L. Bean insulated hunting pants, an L.L. Bean utility belt, and an L.L. Bean plaid shirt with a Cabela camouflage jacket. The ceremony terminated case CP414E, In the matter of Mark Weaver, A Child in Need of Supervision. Mr. Buckalew Weaver, a canine from Anchorage, served as best man.
The bride, when asked to comment on the ceremony, stated that her campaign had begun many months earlier, with the assistance and urging of many friends and associates. "I am deeply grateful to the many women's groups in Alaska who supported my candidacy for this position and to the many attorneys and people who aided me in this effort." She told reporters.
When reminded that this approach to wedding plans seemed somewhat unusual, she corrected her statement by saying that she had prepared her comments for he upcoming swearing in as District Court Judge, and must had gotten the ceremonies mixed up.
The groom was quite outspoken about the merits of the day's events. "I had six good wing shots this morning and Buck (the best man) performed admirably in the recovering through the grass and water. The low clouds and scattered rain were helpful in keeping the birds down." He said. The groom also was enthusiastic about future prospects for the union. "I find the full and modified to be the most effective when coupled with the excellent craftsmanship of the Merkel. The combination of light weight and easy handling makes this far superior to a Browning. I fully expect to have a honker for Thanksgiving."
The bride was attended in absentia by the Honorable Robert Boochever, Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court.
We returned to Anchorage the next day. I didn't dare miss the swearing in.
There was a celebration of both events at a party at Susan Connolly and Fred Biere's house in Fairview. Susan now is an insurance defense lawyer in Eugene. We barbecued everything under the sun until it was too late and too cold to stand outside. Larry arrived just as it was getting dark, carrying a tiered cake still warm from the oven, with frosting dripping down the sides. I'm certain it was a Julia Child recipe. There were two figurines on top of the cake. The bride wore black and the groom carried a shotgun. Regrettably, I couldn't keep them because they had been borrowed from Paul Bryner's toy box.
A few years hence, Steve and Barbara also ran off to Cordova to be married by Mary Wentworth, in September. It was the first and only trend I ever started.
When Barbara left the agency the following summer, there was less fanfare but certainly greater loss. Her farewell bash was hosted by Eric Sanders, whose successful negotiation of a bush case had just yielded a dozen fresh salmon. There was a huge crowd at Eric's not-so-huge-house. Chris Schleuss, who lived next door, got stuck with the cooking, upon discovering that Eric's abilities were limited to sprinkling charcoal lighter on the barbeque pit. Among the highlights of the evening, people went upstairs to look at all the clothes in Eric's closets. It was better than shopping.
Barbara left to become an A.G. in Natural Resources. It was a step toward leading a calmer life and eventually becoming a mother.
We each thought it important to leave something of value behind at the agency.
Barbara left a black dress and red slip that had resided for years on the coat rod by the copy machine. It was the female equivalent of the tie that some lawyers hang in their office for emergencies. Always anticipating the next battle, Barbara, probably thought that a client might need it some day.
I left next to the dress a stylish leather coat with fake fur trim that had been given to me by a defendant to show his appreciation. The coat had come in a plain paper bag with a Nordstrom's tag on it. The price was cut off, but the tag did not contain the secret code that the store puts on the back so that it can determine the price if the gift is returned.
Barbara had once represented the client too. We silently agreed he could not afford to shop at Nordstrom. Furthermore, all of his cases fell in the category of property crimes. We decided to leave that coat right out in plain view. If the D.A.'s wanted it, they could come get it!
I don't remember a dull moment at the agency. The mix of people from all walks of life contributed to this. But, what made it so stirring, almost intoxicating, was the hilarity and sport inspired by people like Barbara and Larry and Rick. Fearless themselves, they made the rest of us dare to try our hand.
I suspect I am not alone in being unable to think of the past without thinking of them. Other people knew them better, but few had greater need to look up to them.
Most of us at the agency then were young, both in years and in experience. We did not know what lay ahead. We did know that we had a job to do. That job required us to defend unpopular positions, often for losing causes, and often alone. Rick and Barbara and Larry taught us how to do that job well, and with imagination. They taught us to laugh while we did it. They gave us courage. Now they are gone, abruptly and so unfairly. Their deaths have left us numb.
When it rains, it hails.
Larry Kulik died in May 1981, in a scuba diving accident in Hawaii. He was 36.
Barbara Miracle died in May 1985, after a plane crash in Turnagain Arm. Her two sons died also. She was 39.
Rick Lindsley died in June 1985, of cancer at home in California. He was 38.
Bill Bryson died in January 2006. He was 58.
The author is an Alaska Superior Court judge in Palmer