Alaska Digest

Posted: Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Nonprofit says DEC is charging exorbitant fees

ANCHORAGE - The head of a water-quality watchdog organization says the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is charging exorbitant copying fees to deter the group from gaining public records.

Bob Shavelson, executive director of Cook Inlet Keeper, said the agency's goal is to keep his group from showing the state isn't doing its job under the Clean Water Act.

"I received a response that said this is going to be thousands and thousands of pages and it'll cost you between $5,000 and $12,000," Shavelson said. "This is an incredibly high hurdle to jump to gain access to public documents."

The head of the DEC's Air and Water Quality Division denied Shavelson's allegations. The agency may be late in filing some reports with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but it is fulfilling its mandates under the federal Clean Water Act and is facing no penalties for delays, DEC manager Tom Chapple said.

Chapple said the original estimate for copying costs at up to $12,000 is justified given the vast number of documents Shavelson wanted copied and the staff time it would require.

"When we take on a large request like this, it's diverting a lot of other work," Chapple told the Anchorage Daily News.

Shavelson requested the public records in August in a letter written by a staff attorney for Trustees for Alaska, an Anchorage environmental law firm. The firm wanted, within 10 days, all documents relating to DEC compliance with various aspects of the Clean Water Act, the federal law designed to protect America's waterways.

Some of the requested documents went as far back as 1996.

The law firm asked that all copying fees be waived because the request "is made in the public interest, and is meant to effectuate strong public policies."

Tribal court workers attend training session

ANCHORAGE - Tribal judges and clerks from around Alaska are attending a three-day training session in Anchorage this week.

Alaska tribal courts handle civil cases that involve tribal members or children eligible to join the tribe. At Monday's training workshop, tribal court workers learned they also have a few things in common with the supreme courts of Alaska and the United States, including the duty to respect due process.

"I want to drive that point home," attorney Cindy Thomas told the court trainees at the Hotel Captain Cook. Whether they're judges in Sleetmute or San Francisco, Thomas said, they must respect due process or expect their decisions to come undone.

Legal terms flew so thick and fast Monday that the training sponsor, the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, handed out a two-page glossary.

It's not that judicial systems are foreign to Alaska Natives, said trainer and attorney Andy Harrington, of Alaska Legal Services. They've had local justice systems for hundreds or thousands of years. But now that the traditional courts are interacting with state and federal systems, learning the new vocabulary and following the rules are essential, he said.

"In the long run we're all striving for justice," he told the trainees. "I think tribal courts are as or more capable of administering justice as the state is."

Alaska tribal courts operate in a relatively limited realm, circumscribed by acts of Congress and dozens of state and federal court decisions, Harrington explained. Because tribal members are also Alaska residents, tribal cases can be heard in state court if one side requests it.

Murder victim's mother granted $6.2 million

FAIRBANKS - The mother of a 15-year-old Fairbanks boy who was fatally beaten in 1997 has won $6.2 million in a wrongful death lawsuit against the four men convicted of the murder.

Fairbanks Superior Court Judge Charles Pengilly granted default judgment in favor of Evalyn Thomas, the mother of beating murder victim John Hartman.

None of the defendants showed up for an April trial to contest the lawsuit.

Pengilly is expected to issue a formal order for the defendants to pay the judgment, according to Robert John, an attorney representing Thomas.

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