Alaska Digest

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2003

UAS hosts night of Native storytelling

JUNEAU - The University of Alaska Southeast Native student club, Wooch.een, is hosting a Night of Native Alaskan Storytelling and Dancing tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the new UAS Egan Auditorium. The celebration is to honor November as Native American Heritage Month.

"Several students from campus are going to be reading their poetry and sharing stories, and having a good time," said Hans Chester, a UAS graduate and Native Alaskan activist.

There will also be a special performance by the UAS Tlingit Culture Dancers. The celebration is expected to last two hours and is free and open to the public.

For more information contact Janice Jackson, UAS Native and Rural Center coordinator, at 465-6454.

Jury rejects symphony defamation claim

FAIRBANKS - A jury has determined that eight University of Alaska Fairbanks faculty and Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra members did not defame a former conductor.

The jury also determined the eight did not interfere with the employment of Madeline Schatz, who sought more than $500,000 and punitive damages.

The trial began Oct. 30. Closing arguments were Monday and jurors announced their verdict Tuesday.

Schatz first sued the eight faculty members in 2001, claiming they defamed her by submitting documents expressing concerns about her mental condition and contributed to her losing her job.

The faculty members were John Hopkins, Jane Aspnes, Eduard Zilberkant, Kathleen Butler-Hopkins, John P. Harbaugh, David Stech, James M. Bicigo and Linda Jennings.

In April, her attorneys filed an additional lawsuit against UAF and John Leipzig, former dean of the College of Liberal Arts. That case is scheduled for trial next year.

Much of the two-week trial focused on a one-paragraph memo sent to Leipzig, then liberal arts dean, a position that oversees the orchestra conductor. The memo, signed by the eight faculty members, expressed concern about "the perceived and self-described mental state of our colleague, Madeline Schatz."

It listed as an example the "throwing of chairs and stands at a Youth Orchestra rehearsal in April 2000."

Schatz's attorneys tried to paint the document as part of an underhanded effort to push Schatz out of her job based on false and defamatory claims.

Attorneys for the faculty members said the defendants had legitimate reason to express concern about Schatz's mental condition, which both sides agreed included depression.

Schatz now lives in Hawaii.

Salmonella confirmed at Kodiak school

KODIAK - Four cases of salmonella connected to a lunch served at a private school have been confirmed by the Alaska Division of Public Health.

The four were among people sickened after eating at Kodiak Christian School on Oct. 31.

"We are aware of 48 case-patients at this time," said Joe McLaughlin, a medical epidemiologist.

Although health and school officials believe they have pinpointed the event at which the salmonella spread - an International Day potluck lunch - they do not know the direct source of the bacteria.

The bacteria could already have been in a food or contaminated by handling, said principal Donna Schmelzenbach.

"We have no way of knowing (the source) unless the food comes back positive," Schmelzenbach said. Even then the cause may not be determined. There were few items at the lunch that are typically associated with salmonella, she said. There was no dish with eggs, except sugar cookies, which appeared properly baked, she said.

Homer residents want state to buy leases

HOMER - Homer residents are urging state officials to buy back leases in a controversy over coal bed methane leasing in the hills around their town.

State officials met with more than 150 residents to discuss shallow-gas development in the area, where leases were sold earlier this year with little public notice. Speaker after speaker urged the state to buy the leases back before exploration begins.

Homer residents were sharply critical of the state's new fast-track laws for shallow-gas development. The program was designed to bring new royalties to the state and to provide a local source of relatively cheap, clean natural gas, Department of Natural Resources officials said.

But in Homer, Unocal, which has picked up most of the Homer-area leases from the original purchaser, says it wants to develop conventional gas wells, which are also legal under the new state program if a gas-bearing structure can be found within 3,000 feet of the surface.

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