Man fights court for belongings

Warner kicked off boat after dispute over ownership

Posted: Friday, September 22, 2000

A local man has been sleeping on the Dimond Courthouse steps since Monday to protest a judge's decision about access to his possessions.

Josh Warner, 36, also known as Russell Peterson Jr., slept on the courthouse steps three nights while people stepped over him. On Thursday, he took further action, hanging cardboard placards on himself and his dog, Taka, during the day.

The protest stems from a dispute over ownership of the 54-foot converted tuna boat Warner has been living aboard since February. He was removed from the vessel about 4 p.m. Monday at Taku Harbor by the Coast Guard and Juneau police.

Warner protests that he was not allowed to take his wallet, identification or sleeping bag, or medication for his epileptic dog. Penniless and homeless, he filed a request with Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks for access to his personal belongings.

"Weeks said I had to wait five days for response from Tyna Ek (the boat's owner), and then I would have two days to respond. I asked the court clerk how I would be informed. He said by mail. But I don't have the key to my post office box and they won't give me another key without identification," Warner said.

Ek, a Seattle attorney who specializes in environmental insurance law, employment law and medical malpractice, said she hoped any reports of Warner's situation would not be "another pity party because he's already had too many of them."

Ek said Wednesday, "He has completely conned me. I thought this was (an act of) friendship. He convinced me as a favor to buy the boat because he was being ripped off by someone. I met him when he moved in with my next-door neighbor, and I thought I could trust him."

The contract she had with Warner specified he would pay for all repairs and perform all labor. He was to bring the boat to Seattle as soon as he accomplished emergency engine repairs. When the boat was re-sold, he would share in the profit, she said.

"I was trying to do the compassionate thing, but he lies about everything," she said.

According to Ek, Warner ran up credit card bills for parts he didn't need to re-build an engine. "He ordered $3,400 worth of furnace parts luxury options to the heating system from Oregon," she said. Ek also said she advanced Warner $7,000 in cash.

Their agreement was that he would have the boat ready to go to Seattle in a month, but Warner stalled, she said. He also filed a $22,000 lien on the boat.

"I finally gave him a deadline (Sept. 1) because he was in violation of every part of the contract," Ek said.

She flew to Juneau the week of Labor Day to confront Warner and have a marine surveyor inspect the boat. But Warner fled in the boat. He was then tracked down and removed by police.

Warner said he needs identification and tools so that he can work at construction. He would like to go aboard the O'Hana Kai to fetch those possessions, his dog's medication, and something to wear other than a pair of plaid flannel pajama pants.

Ek said she had arranged for transfer of Warner's belongings Sept. 12, but he didn't appear. Instead he hid, fleeing in the boat as far as Petersburg. Now, she said, she will not allow him on board because she feels he will "claim everything in sight as his."

Warner was neither arrested nor charged Monday, said police Lt. Walt Boman.

"We enforced a court-ordered writ of assistance ... returning the boat to its owner in a civil action. It's up to the court to decide what he does or does not own on the boat," Boman said Thursday.

On Wednesday, Juneau attorney Douglas Mertz filed a motion for reconsideration on Warner's behalf. A hearing was scheduled for 2 p.m. today.

"I got into this because I don't think we can have the guy sleeping in front of the courthouse. Although our justice system works very well, it does not always work in a straight line and usually not as quickly as it might. He needs to get his basic rights" to his possessions, Mertz said.

Warner is no stranger to the Juneau court system. According to court records, he has been the defendant in 10 small claims cases and the plaintiff in one between July 1991 and December 1998.

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