Territorial lawyers swap 'good old days'tales at 6th annual summer get-together
By Margaret R. Russell
The guest list for the annual "Territorial Lawyers Dinner" (and/or Picnic) was expanded this year to include all lawyers in practice for 40 years or longer, whether or not they were admitted before Alaska became a state in 1959.
Leroy Barker, one of the annual event's founders, said the natural attrition of the original group was taking its toll on the number of Territorial Lawyers still alive and well enough to attend.
Two of the lawyers attending the 6th annual event this year, who were not previously eligible, were Alaska District Court Judge James Wanamaker and former Anchorage practitioner Joe Young, who now lives in Sun Valley, Idaho. The reunion was held June 3 at the Mahogany House, an Anchorage B & B.
Many of the Anchorage Territorial Lawyers regularly attend the gathering. They include Bob Opland, Charles Tulin, Jerry Wade, Gene Williams, Judge Seaborn Buckalew, John Hughes (accompanied by his daughter Mary Hughes), Al Maffei, M. Ashley Dickerson, Russ Arnett, Roger Cremo, Jim Delaney, George Hayes and banker Dan Cuddy. Don Burr also was present this year as was Ev Harris of Mesa, Arizona. Hayes was one of the earliest attorneys general for the new state, and Harris was the last of the United States Commissioners before he began his long career in private practice in Anchorage.
Most lawyers bring a spouse or other guest, and several widows of local lawyers, including Lucy Groh and Priscilla Thorsness, also attend every year. The members of this core group often comment that the annual party is the only chance they get to stay in touch with their many old friends in the legal community.
Also present this year was Jack Stern, now a resident of Seattle, who practiced in Alaska until 1986. Stern was one of several lawyers admitted on the cusp of Alaska's transition from territory to statehood. Stern said that he, Hayes, the late George Boney and Pete Walton took the bar examination in October of 1958, and then were forced to endure a long wait for the results, which finally were published in March 1959.
Stern's practice was substantially limited to motor carrier and communications matters, and took him to many remote areas in Alaska. When Stern moved to Seattle, he entered into the freight forwarding business in which he said he "stills works every day."
Opland also recalls a torturous wait for results of the bar examination after he took the test in 1954. The 18 candidates that year also included Russ Arnett, Ken Atkinson, Bob LaFollette, Pete LaBate and Dave Thorsness. The results were announced some five months later on the front page of the Anchorage Times accompanied by large pictures of the nine who had passed. Russ Arnett's wife Betty was teaching third grade at North Star Elementary School when her principal handed her an announcement in the shape of a heart that her husband had passed. (Anchorage lawyer Ann Liburd was one of her students that day. She recalls that Mrs. Arnett first "turned bright red," and then proceeded to teach her students about lawyers and the Bar Association.)
One of the lawyers who graded Opland's test later told him it was clear from his answers that there were some areas of the law he didn't give a damn about and some he really cared about. Opland went on to serve as an Assistant District Attorney and then District Attorney before entering private practice doing primarily insurance defense work. He and Charles Hagans were partners for years, and they partnered for shorter periods with Dave Bendell, Tom Boedeker and James Johnston.
Opland remembers Hagans as a quiet man but one determined to do things his own way. Opland and Hagans were partners for a year before Opland learned that Hagans was a carrier pilot on a liberty ship carrier that flew in the Aleutians campaign.
Opland came to Anchorage in 1938 on the vessel North Star, the larger of two wooden ships (the other was the Boxer) that served Alaska at the time. Father Bernard Hubbard, the priest/explorer for whom the Hubbard Glacier was named, was aboard the same voyage. Also on board was Josephine Crumrein, an artist known for her depictions of sled dogs and Eskimo children. Some of Crumrein's works hung for years in the hallways of the old Anchorage Hotel.
Opland recalled that, when the North Star reached Seward, the ship was held in the harbor for five days waiting for Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes to arrive by train and join the voyage. When the train arrived, however, Ickes got off and immediately boarded a Coast Guard cutter that promptly left the harbor and the waiting North Star behind.
As often happens in conversation among the early practitioners, the name of George McLaughlin arose in Opland's reminiscence. Opland touched on several aspects of McLaughlin's history and personality. McLaughlin was another World War II warrior; he served with Merrill's Marauders behind the lines in China and Burma. He was a good friend of Bill Egan, who was President of the Alaska Constitutional Convention and the first Governor of Alaska.
On the lighter side, Senior U.S. District Court Judge James Fitzgerald recalled McLaughlin referring to himself, a Roman Catholic, as "a weed in the Pope's garden." Fitzgerald said that McLaughlin's mother-in-law, a staunch Lutheran, visited her daughter and son-in-law every Sunday after church services. McLaughlin used that opportunity to slip anti-Catholic tracts he had clipped out for the purpose into her Bible for her later discovery.
Anchorage lawyer Ken Atkinson described McLaughlin, whose full name was George Malcolm Sean Patrick McLaughlin, as a New York Irishman with "street smarts." He graduated from Fordham Law School (where he was a classmate of the great football coach Vince Lombardi) and then came to Anchorage, where he served as a city magistrate and became deeply involved in Alaska's quest for statehood. McLaughlin was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Atkinson recalls that McLaughlin was adamant that the judiciary not be an elected office and credits him to a large extent for Alaska's adoption of the Missouri Plan, which still governs the judicial selection process.
Atkinson said he and McLaughlin became partners in a criminal and business practice right after Atkinson was admitted to the bar in 1955. Three years later, McLaughlin died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 44.
McLaughlin was a close ally and confidant of Bill Egan. He ran Egan's winning campaign for senator under the Tennessee Plan in 1957 against newspaper publisher Robert Atwood, and Egan's campaign for governor in 1958, prior to McLaughlin's untimely death in June of that year. During that period, Atkinson stayed out of politics because he thought one politician in the office was enough. Someone had to mind the store.
McLaughlin's death on June 22, 1958, occurred just days before Congress voted to admit Alaska to the Union. Atkinson, who was just 32 when McLaughlin died, said he "thought it was the end of the world."
Atkinson remained in private practice in Anchorage. He turned down two requests in the early years to practice in other cities where one-lawyer or one-firm communities had constant conflict of interest problems. The firm of Ziegler, Cloudy and Jernberg pressed both Atkinson and Cliff Groh to come to Ketchikan, and another lawyer asked Atkinson to set up practice in Kodiak. Atkinson noted that he now has been in practice for 48 years, but he admits that at this point he practices only "grudgingly."
Kenai lawyer Jamie Fischer, who regularly attends the Territorial Lawyers gatherings, has found a way to remain part of the legal community while enjoying retirement from practice. Fischer describes himself as the "executive administrator pro bono" of the Kenai Bar Association to which he was appointed by President Bob Cowan. Fischer has been an integral part of that organization since he and Jim Hornaday founded it on Washington's birthday in 1967.
Fischer said the Kenai Bar Association has just "struggled along" over the years but he knows its existence played a part in the Kenai Peninsula's obtaining a superior court. The magistrates serving the Peninsula prior to statehood had been based in Kenai, Seldovia and Homer. When Judge Fitzgerald took over administration of the new Third Judicial District, he created an atmosphere for judges to sit in Kodiak, Kenai and Anchorage. No superior court judge was seated at Kodiak at the time but Jim Hanson was assigned to the Kenai superior court and served until about 1985 or 1986. He retired three times but each time was called back for additional service.
Fischer arrived in Anchorage in 1955. He was admitted to the Bar in 1956 and first took a job with the construction company Morrison-Knudson. He left to open his own law office just when the state was admitted to the Union. He recalls missing the celebration, including a large bonfire, because he was too busy setting up his office. He moved to Kenai in 1961, where he practiced until 1978, when he took a federal job.
Fischer was a representative in the first Alaska State Legislature. He recalls that Judge James von der Heydt, who was then in private practice, lobbied the legislature on behalf of the City of Nome. Because Kenai was so closely associated with the Swanson River oil fields in those days, von der Heydt took to calling Fischer "oil slick." According to Fischer, even though von der Heydt was the lobbyist and Fischer the legislator, Fischer was always the one who ended up buying the milkshakes they ordered when they got together.
Fischer also recalled his early relationship with then-Superior Court Judge James Fitzgerald, who sat on the Kenai bench on occasion. During one uncontested divorce proceeding, the second divorce of the same parties, Fischer asked Judge Fitzgerald to provide in the decree that the parties could not marry a third time without first applying to the court for permission. Fitzgerald denied the request stating, "Mr. Fischer, these parties have a right to make the same mistake over and over and over again."
Fischer and his wife spent many years after his retirement from his private law practice in Juneau, where she worked for the legislature and Fischer worked pro bono for Alaska Legal Services. They returned to Kenai in 1995, where his wife died in 1997.
Just as Fischer concluded his reminiscences, Judge von der Heydt approached and greeted him from a distance with a hearty, "Hi there, Oil Slick."
Charles Tulin said he still is practicing full time in the same office building, near the Hilton Hotel, where he established his practice right after he was admitted in 1956. He claims he still follows the same schedule and is still using the same desk. Tulin vividly recalls the 1964 earthquake. When the shaking started at 5:35 p.m, he ran down the stairs and into the street where he ran right into Jack Stern. Stern also remembers the dramatic moment.
Tulin's most memorable court appearance took place in the Old Federal Building long before courthouses had security screening. Tulin was attending a family law hearing at which he represented the husband Lloyd Duggan. During the hearing, the wife shot Tulin's client. She then dropped the gun and Duggan picked it up. An FBI agent was called to the scene and found Duggan holding the gun. When the agent asked what happened, Duggan responded simply, "She shot me." Eventually, he handed the gun over to the agent. Duggan survived his gunshot wounds but was killed just 180 days later while performing an aerobatic maneuver.
Anchorage banker Dan Cuddy, who was admitted in 1947, no longer practices law but remains an active member of the bar. He claims to hold the oldest law license in the state. He also was the last person to be admitted under the rule that permitted a person to sit for the bar without having graduated from law school if he had clerked a requisite period of time for an Alaska lawyer. Cuddy clerked for his father, Warren Cuddy, who practiced in Anchorage before he went into the banking business.
Cuddy thinks a person still should be allowed to sit for the examination without having a law degree. In his view, a person who can compete successfully in the examination with a Harvard Law graduate, should be admitted to practice.
During his five years in private practice, Cuddy had what he called a "monopoly" on adoptions. In most cases, the pregnant mother came to him for help. He did not charge the mother for his services and paid all the court fees himself. (Cuddy added mischievously that he later added the fees on to those for his divorce cases, which he did not enjoy handling.) His only requirement of the adopting parents was that they purchase a new outfit of clothing for the natural mother.
Cuddy and his wife Betty personally went to the hospital to pick up the newborn and then delivered the baby to the adopting parents. The state of Alaska gave them no problems with the way they handled the adoptions. The nuns running Providence Hospital did object, however, if the adopting parents were not Catholic. Cuddy took his problem with the nuns to the hospital chaplain, a friend and former client. The problems with the nuns then stopped.
Cuddy left the practice of law and went into banking when his father died after having taken over the First National Bank. The community was growing and Cuddy thought going into the banking business would be a wise move. Cuddy said he has never missed his practice because "ninety percent of practicing law is sadness." He also believes that in most cases one or the other party is lying and as a result, a lawyer often must defend a liar. Cuddy views banking, on the other hand, as 98 percent happiness because it gives him an opportunity to give someone else a start.