Judge James Fitzgerald was interviewed on November 18, 2005 by Margaret Russell in Anchorage, Alaska. In this interview, he talks about working cases in his early years in Ketchikan and Juneau, relationship between local police and the US Attorney’s office, mental health cases and Morningside Hospital, local, state and federal jurisdictions, conflict over fish traps, police coverage around the state, enforcement of liquor laws, setting up the state’s court system and receiving judge training, the Court-Bar fight and state Bar Association issues, getting appointed and serving as a judge, and notable cases he handled.
Judge Fitzgerald was also interviewed by Margaret Russell on June 3, 2005 (tape number Oral History 2012-02-09) and September 16, 2005 (tape number Oral History 2012-02-10) in Anchorage, Alaska.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Judges of Alaska
Date of Interview: Nov 18, 2005
Narrator(s): Judge James Fitzgerald
Interviewer(s): Margaret Russell
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First Superior Court building in Anchorage
Building of the Boney Courthouse in Anchorage
Establishment of the Judicial Council
Applying to be Superior Court judge
Conflict between the Bar Association and the State Supreme Court
Getting training to be a Superior Court judge
Setting up the family court system in Anchorage
State Supreme Court justice, George Boney
Rural justice system
Bar Association and court system politics
Becoming Special Legal Counsel to Governor Egan
Conflict with the federal government over use of fish traps
Arrests in Kake, Alaska over use of fish traps
Trying of the appeal of the fish trap case before the US Supreme Court
State Supreme Court justice, Jay Rabinowitz
Doing trial court work and possible conflict with Supreme Court cases
Johnny Rich murder trial
Appointment to the U.S. District Court
Case of The United States versus Lew Dischner and corruption on the North Slope
Case of airplane crash in Bombay, India
Case of airplane crash in San Diego, California
Becoming senior justice
Hunting with friends in other parts of the legal profession
Going on a family trip together with Senator Ted Stevens
Family vacation driving to the Lower 48
Changes in Alaska's legal system
His children's education and careers
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MS. RUSSELL: -- United -- Senior United States District Court Judge interview, oral history. Today is November 18. Judge, we talked last time about your experience in the Superior Court, and that was in this building, the Boney Building, at the time. Is that correct?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: No, it started up in the old federal courthouse at that time.
And they had -- the Administrator of U.S. Courts had made the one courtroom up on the main floor available, but it was divided.
And Judge Ed Davis had one side of it and I had the other side.
And then downstairs they had a library and they put a chambers and a courtroom down there for Judge Earl Cooper.
There were three of us here at that time and so Davis and I shared a courtroom.
It was -- had been on the main floor.
And I always remember, because J. Gerald Williams, who had been an attorney general, had come up here, and he had a booming voice.
And I remember he was trying a case in front of Judge Davis, and I'm right next door.
And I had to stop because my court reporter, all she could do was record him.
He was a loud guy.
MS. RUSSELL: That would make an interesting transcript. Were you --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: It was an interesting transcript.
MS. RUSSELL: And you were Presiding Judge for quite a period of time.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: I was.
MS. RUSSELL: Were you Presiding Judge when the Boney Courthouse was built?
Were you in the Superior Court at the time?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, what happened is, Nesbett was the Chief Justice.
And the bond issue to build a courtroom here by the state failed.
And so what happened is he got a contract with a
builder, and the builder put in a -- to build a courthouse right close here, and he then leased it to the state.
And that was the first state courthouse we had here in Anchorage.
And then later on the Boney Courthouse was built.
And I remember being able to look out the window and there was a lot of
building in the wintertime at that time, and they were working on it in the wintertime, pouring cement and all the rest of it.
MS. RUSSELL: So you watched it go up. And then did you have offices here in the Boney Courthouse, where we are today?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Later on, but I wasn't here very long.
MS. RUSSELL: Were you in the Superior Court then or the --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: I was in the Superior Court back then. MS. RUSSELL: Superior Court.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: There were eight of us judges in the Superior Court, three here, one in Nome, two in Fairbanks, two in Southeast, and that was it.
MS. RUSSELL: Now, the judges -- the judges are appointed by a judicial council here.
It's my understanding that the judicial council members were first appointed by the Board of Governors of the Bar Association,
rather than the system that we have now with the public members and the elected members.
Were you involved in that change at all?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah, I remember the -- when they first were establishing the judicial council, they --
that started a problem between the Bar Association and the Chief Justice.
MS. RUSSELL: Justice Nesbett at the time, hmm?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Right. And at that time the local Bars were (indiscernible).
The Alaska Bar hadn't been organized.
And it had been organized back in the early 1900s, but it kind of went by the wayside and --
the local Bars did. So the Anchorage Bar -- there was a meeting of the Board of Governors up in Nome.
And Wendell Kay was the Chair of the Board of Governors at that time.
And the members of the Board of Governors that were from Anchorage, under Wendell Kay's guidance,
selected the members that were going to be on the Judicial Council.
And Cliff Groh was one of the members of the Board of Governors. And he came back and
he met with Ed Davis, and there was a --]Ed Davis had called a special meeting. And we met in the Loussac Library downstairs.
And the -- Anchorage Bar did.
And they rejected the members that the Board of Governors from Anchorage had selected for the Judicial Council. And --
MS. RUSSELL: Were all the members of the Bar there? I know it was a small Bar at the time.
Or was it a select group, in the Loussac --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: It had grown substantially by that time.
And so the decision was made that the members of the Anchorage Bar Association would select the members of the Judicial Council
that were going to be appointed from this district, from Anchorage.
And Ed Davis had selected two of us to go up to talk to Harold Stringer, who was a member of the Board of Governors.
And his good friend John Connelly had been named to the Judicial Council as -- and there were two others that had been named, but --
They -- Stringer was told by Nesbett and myself that he would have to have John Connelly and the other two withdraw,
because the board -- the Anchorage Bar would select the members of the Judicial Council.
And he finally agreed to that, but he made us promise that Stringer --
I mean that his nominee, his -- had been his law partner, John Connelly, would not be abused or anything.
So he got John Connelly, and John Connelly then resigned, and the other two also resigned.
And there were three members of the Judicial Council selected by the local Bar Association.
And the one who was selected directly from Anchorage was Ray Plummer.
Ray Plummer had been the U.S. Attorney and he was well thought of, Ray Plummer.
And he had a friend down in Seward who was a layman, and he was also appointed to the Judicial Council.
And I'm trying to think who that third one was.
And the Board of Governors then agreed to that.
And they selected the ones who were going to be nominated then for the Superior Court.
And so if you wanted to be nominated, you could put your name in, and you could put it in for whatever district you wanted.
I decided I wanted to be nominated as a Superior Court judge, but I put in for -- my name in for each of the districts,
the four districts: Nome, Fairbanks, Southeast, and Anchorage.
And I was one of the three selected for Anchorage.
MS. RUSSELL: Were you pleased with that decision? Were you happy to come to Anchorage -- or to stay in Anchorage?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: I'd been raised in Anchorage -- I mean I'd spent my Bar time in Anchorage.
I'd come here as assistant U.S. attorney. And then I'd become -- MS. RUSSELL: That's right.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- city attorney. And so -- when they were -- I was selected as one of the three here.
Ed Davis and -- or J. Earl Cooper was the other two.
And -- but what had happened was the -- Chief Justice Nesbett had decided to take over the functioning of the Bar Association.
And he sent his court administrator, who was then Tom Stewart.
The first court administrator had been a fellow who had been recommended to Nesbett by the director of the Administration of Court Judges.
And that was a man whose name was Luce, from California.
He came out here and he helped get the -- the Bar had no funds or anything like that at that time, and he managed to get it going.
Then his wife came up here, but she didn't like Anchorage. So they left and went back to California.
And Tom Stewart was appointed to the -- be the Administrator of the Alaska Court system.
And he was told to take over the functions of the Anchorage Bar.
And he went down to First National Bank, where the Bar funds were kept,
and he arrived there late in the afternoon, and people in the bank, when he told them that he wanted the funds to be transferred to the Alaska Court System,
they said he -- he'd have to call Roger Cremo, who was attorney for the bank at that time. MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And Roger Cremo asked him then to put it off till the next morning.
And the next morning, Tom Stewart was there, but there was a service section of the Alaska State Troopers that were assigned to the courthouse,
and he took the man who was in charge of the service section up to the bank with him.
And I think Cremo had suggested it, although that's disputed.
And what happened then is he called Cremo, and Cremo asked him if the trooper was there.
And Tom Stewart told him he was.
And he had said, "Is he armed?" And Stewart said, "Of course he's armed." He said, "Have him unfasten his holster and put his hand on the weapon."
And Tom, he wasn't suspicious or anything like that. He told him to do it.
Well, as soon as that happened, the funds were then transferred and delivered to Tom Stewart,
and he opened the account for the Alaska Bar Association.
But all of a sudden, entering the First National Bank was reporters, two of them for the Anchorage Daily Times,
and it was on the front page of the Times that afternoon. And -- MS. RUSSELL: That --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Nesbett was absolutely furious.
MS. RUSSELL: I'm sure he wasn't the only one.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And then the eight judges for the Superior Court were selected right around Thanksgiving.
And we all had to go down to Juneau. We were sworn in by the Supreme Court in Juneau.
And on the 27th of November, we all boarded a Pacific Northern plane, fly back, started out for New York. Went back to New York.
Nesbett had arranged with the Supreme Court of New Jersey to give us instruction on how to be judges.
And that's where he -- we went back to New York. But the sheriff in -- I forget the county where Newark was.
They came over and got us every morning.
We spent a little over a week back there, learning how to be judges.
MS. RUSSELL: The court system here in the Superior Court has a good -- or a kind of a, I guess, focus on family law issues and judges who have expertise in that area.
Were you involved in getting that set up?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: No, it was decided that there'd have to be someone who could really handle the Family Court, because we were doing such a lousy job.
And so there was another election for family court judge in Anchorage.
And Harold Butcher was elected to that.
And later on when I became the Chief Judge, I tried to transfer Butcher to the -- handle civil cases.
But I got called up to the Chief Justice.
And he told me that Harold Butcher had been elected as Family Court judge and I had no authority to change his designation,
and he would remain Family Court judge and would continue to do so.
MS. RUSSELL: Did you say elected, or was he appointed by the Judicial -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: When -- he was elected -- MS. RUSSELL: Or nominated.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- fourth judge for Anchorage. And Nesbett told me that when that was --
when the court decided to elect the fourth judge for Anchorage, that judge was designated the Family Court judge.
MS. RUSSELL: And they were elected by whom?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: By the voters.
MS. RUSSELL: Really. Oh. I didn't think that ever happened. I didn't realize that. JUDGE FITZGERALD: No, uh-uh (negative).
MS. RUSSELL: Okay. That was the only time, though, right? There wasn't -- after that, it was just a retention election?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: It became retention, but originally we -- they were all voted on.
MS. RUSSELL: Oh. Didn't know that. JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah.
MS. RUSSELL: Now, when you went to the Supreme Court, you replaced George Boney, for whom this courthouse is named. Is that right?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Boney had a lake -- a cabin on a lake -- I can't remember the name of the lake. It's was north of here.
And he had a skiff there.
And he was out on the skiff, and there was a couple of carpenters that were working on building another cabin on that lake.
And they saw him, he fell out of the boat and went into the water.
And they saw him in the water splashing around, and they thought he was able to swim or whatever.
And when it -- became alarmed, they took another skiff, went out there and helped Boney get into the --
get back into the skiff that he was in. But he died from exposure.
MS. RUSSELL: Had you known him well?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Had I what? MS. RUSSELL: Did you know him well?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: I knew Boney pretty darn well. He came out of -- originally he'd come out of Florida.
And he had been with the law firm of Burr, Boney and Pease, and he -- Burr was -- became Attorney General for Hickel.
And Boney then got -- went to the Supreme Court.
MS. RUSSELL: Were you involved in attempting to get more justice for the bush communities?
Was that a -- an interest of yours on the court?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah, it was, because we had a judge at Nome.
They had two judges in Fairbanks, but they were what they call the -- in the territorial days, territorial district judges had appointed what they called commissioners.
And I think back to the commissioners, I don't think there was a single one when I was assistant U.S. attorney that had any Bar training or any law -- legal training.
And when they -- when Alaska became a state and the court system was established, they were appointed then as magistrates.
And I think the first magistrate we had here in Anchorage was Gordon Hardister (ph).
MS. RUSSELL: Has the bush communities, in your view -- has their access -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: (Indiscernible) -- MS. RUSSELL: -- to justice improved since then, or --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: They didn't have -- They had people appointed, but, as I say, none of them had any legal training. And like,
there was an article the other day in the paper -- the Daily News about Nora Guinn, who was a -- she was a magistrate in Bethel.
And Bethel was kind of a central community.
And arrests would be made in maybe some of the outlying communities outside of Bethel, then they'd be sent to Bethel for the -- and be --
and the case would be handled by Nora Guinn.
And she was the most influential person in Bethel, let me tell you that.
And there was a lot of controversies about some of these.
MS. RUSSELL: How did you address the justice issue in the bush?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: They just wore plain clothes.
MS. RUSSELL: No, I mean, how did you --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, address them in court?
MS. RUSSELL: -- address the problem of providing justice for the remote areas?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, the decision was then made that there would be judges elected
as magistrate judges in the outlying communities, and that's what happened. MS. RUSSELL: Okay.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And the -- they began to appoint more Superior Court judges.
Bethel wound up with a Superior Court judge and so did -- Barrow had an -- a lady who was a -- excuse me --
very influential up there, and she ran things in Barrow.
And eventually a judge was appointed or was established in Barrow.
MS. RUSSELL: When you were appointed to the Supreme Court, you had, I think I read somewhere, competition from Judge Moody
and from Boyko and from Eugene Miller.
Do you have any recollection of what the politics were -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah. MS. RUSSELL: -- at that point?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, what had happened was there was -- when Nesbett had taken over the Bar Association,
there was a great deal of animosity then toward the Supreme Court and towards some of the Superior Court judges.
MS. RUSSELL: This is on the part of Bar members, you mean?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: On the part of the Bar. And the --
one who -- the members of the Bar that became very influential was Ed Boyko here, and several others.
And they -- there was a -- there was a sort of a struggle as to who controlled the Judicial Council.
The Bar members, there were -- whether it was going to be the Bar members or the other members who were lay members.
And the -- it was only when Ray Plummer was -- became the Bar member from the Anchorage area that the Bar had --
I mean that the court had any influence with who was a member -- a Bar member of the Judicial Council.
And Fairbanks accepted the choice of the Judicial Council member that would come from Fairbanks.
And the third one was from -- was going to be from Southeast.
And one of the members of the Board of Governors that was in Nome and cooperated with Wendell Kay was Wilford Stump and his brother Bailey.
They were brothers, actually full brothers, but their parents had gotten divorced and Stump took the name of his --
the divorced father and -- but Bailey kept the name of their original name.
And Bailey was a member of the Judicial Council that was selected as the law member from Southeast Alaska.
So when the judges were nominated by the Judicial Council and eventually selected, the Bar in Anchorage had a great deal of influence.
Because Wendell Kay had -- I mean Ed Davis had presided over the meeting when -- which planning resulted in Raymond Plummer being selected as a Bar member.
But the judges in the other districts such as in Nome and Southeast Alaska were pretty much controlled by the Bar.
MS. RUSSELL: And did any of that affect your appointment to the Supreme Court?
In other words, what -- do you know why you were chosen over Moody, Boyko, and Miller?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, yeah, I knew why I was chosen.
The Governor -- what had happened is when Alaska was going to become a state, Eisenhower was President.
But Eisenhower had to sign the proclamation to establish Alaska as a state, and that wasn't done for a number of months.
And when I was city attorney, a good friend of mine was George McLaughlin.
And George McLaughlin became very close with Bill Egan.
And he went up to the Constitutional Convention.
And so Egan came to see me, I didn't really know him, and I was city attorney in Anchorage.
And he -- McLaughlin, he was trying to find an attorney who he could send to Washington.
And his close friend here in Anchorage was George McLaughlin.
George McLaughlin said, "Well, why don't you get Fitzgerald, if you can."
So he came to see me. And he had authorization for a Special Legal Counsel.
So he -- I finally agreed to go, and he appointed me as the Special Legal Counsel.
Well, what happened is that when -- I was to go to Juneau and then go on to Washington.
Egan became very ill in Juneau, as governor. And he was hospitalized in Seattle.
And Hugh Wade was the Lieutenant Governor then. I forget what they call him.
So he called me and told me that Egan had said that I was going to be Special Legal Counsel.
He wanted to send me off to Washington, because he'd been -- Egan had asked that I be appointed.
So I was sent to Washington. MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And there were a lot of problems in Washington, because as a territory, Alaska had very little jurisdiction, had no -- MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- criminal -- like the Attorney General couldn't prosecute criminal cases. MS. RUSSELL: Yeah.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: The highway patrol that had been established could only write tickets for -- on the highway outside of the towns and had no other jurisdiction.
All the prisoners from Alaska had been sent to the federal prison system.
So when I went back to Washington, we had to negotiate like -- for instance, with the Bureau of Prisons,
to take -- continue to take responsibility and accept state prisoners from Alaska. MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And the state had to pay so much a month for them and that sort of thing.
And there was just one thing after another.
One thing that had happened is there had been three ordinances that had been passed,
and they were voted on at the same time as the Constitution was voted on.
And the three ordinances had to do with establishing a state educational system.
There was considerable opposition among the Native communities that had BIA schools.
And one -- another one that was very controversial was the fish trap ordinance.
MS. RUSSELL: Yeah, I think we did talk about the fish trap.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah, the fish trap ordinance -- MS. RUSSELL: Was -- yeah.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: The Secretary of Interior was Seaton.
He began issuing fish trap licenses to Native communities,
and so I'd had a meeting with the attorney who was -- represented the Secretary of Interior.
And he told me that Seaton would continue to operate -- issue fish trap ordinances.
And finally I got a meeting with Seaton. And by this time Ted Stevens who had been
the U.S. Attorney in Fairbanks had gone back to Washington again.
He'd come from Washington. And he was working in the legal office of the Secretary of the Interior.
And he told me that Seaton would continue to issue fish trap licenses.
And so I had to come back. And Egan was just getting out of the hospital when I first met with him in Seattle.
And then we had a meeting when he came back with his cabinet in Juneau.
And the decision was made to -- that if he -- Seaton continued to issue the fish trap licenses,
the state police authority would be enlarged in the legislature, and a --
they would enforce the fish trap ordinance, because it was terribly important in Southeast.
And what happened is fish trap communities, such as Kake and Angoon and Metlakatla, had fish trap ordinance -- fish trap licenses.
And they contracted with the salmon industry.
The salmon industry had the fish -- they had the fish -- they were able to locate the fish traps and place them,
because they were offshore and had to have leads to the -- and so they started --
they contracted with some of the Native communities, such as Kake, Angoon, and Metlakatla.
And they were putting in fish traps.
And out of -- Egan -- on the night of the meeting of Egan's cabinet, I was present,
and a deal was made that the head of the State Troopers in Juneau would take charge of a boat that would be leased by the state
and sent out to Kake, which had -- was -- had the trap almost ready to operate.
And then the guy who was in charge of the State Troopers in Southeast Alaska was Turk Mayfield.
And he was instructed -- he wanted -- he put a couple of those State Troopers on board the boat that had been leased by the state
and went out to Kake. And when they were ready to open the trap,
this Native leader of the corporation that had been issued a fish trap license by Seaton came out on the trap and took charge of it.
Well, Seaton -- I mean Turk Mayfield then arrested him, not the guy who was actually in charge of the trap, and put him aboard the boat.
And then he flew back, Turk Mayfield flew back to Juneau, and we had a meeting. I mean it was a night meeting.
And we were all taken aback because he arrested this Native guy,
and the boat was headed to Petersburg where they were going to arraign him.
But he was the head of the Native corporation that had the license.
And I remember the -- I was told to call the magistrate down in Petersburg as soon as the Natives brought him --
had him released and put aboard the -- back aboard the boat and sent back to Kake.
And Mayfield was told to charter another airplane, go out and arrest the guy who was in charge of the big power scale that was installing the fish trap.
And as -- he was the guy who was actually the one who ran things out there.
And that's what happened.
And he was arrested and brought in, he was brought into Juneau.
And the Attorney General at that time was, oh, John Rader. He'd been appointed by Egan.
And Rader and I then were told to file the case in front of Kelly, who was the territorial judge.
And we filed the case in front of Kelly and Kelly tried the fish trap case in Juneau.
And he found that states had the legal power to outlaw fish traps, and that the ordinance was valid.
Well, what happened then was the appeal was taken, but the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was declining to hear this ordinance that had been passed.
And about three or four weeks after Kelly had upheld it,
John Rader, the Attorney General, got a notice from the Clerk of the United States Supreme Court
that the United States Supreme Court was taking appellate jurisdiction and would hear the fish trap case.
And we were stunned. And so --
MS. RUSSELL: So did you argue that case?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah, I argued it. And we went back to Washington
and we got a guy who had been formerly the president of the American Bar Assoc -- not president, lawyer for the American Bar Association, as a legal advisor.
And it came in front of -- we were astonished, because it wasn't the full court that was going to hear it;
it was Brennan who was a Justice of the Supreme Court who had been appointed out of New Jersey.
And when we argued in front of Brennan, Brennan was very hostile to the states.
And when I -- he had called the Solicitor up here, Solicitor of the Department of Justice.
And so when it was argued in front of Brennan, the attorneys who represented fish traps were the ones who represented canned salmon.
There were -- one attorney from Juneau, one attorney from Ketchikan.
And he said -- when they finished their argument as appellates, I -- Brennan then turned to me and told me if we -- proceed. And I said, "Well, see, the Solicitor's here, but he hasn't filed any papers,
and I don't know if it's going to be -- the federal government's going to take a position in this case or not."
And Brennan, he rose from his chair and shook his finger at me and he said, "I'll have whoever I wish appear here in this case,
and you have no authority to question my jurisdiction."
Well, the Solicitor was a -- really a nice guy and I knew something about what they were going to do.
And so he got up and he told Brennan that he was going to take the position of the Secretary of the Interior, Secretary Seaton.
He -- but the general government had not arrived -- but the government had not arrived at a final position yet,
and that would have to be done through the attorney -- through the Department of Justice.
And they were -- it was being considered in the Department of Justice, but that he would argue the position of the Secretary of the Interior.
And it was the position Secretary of the Interior was taking that day, but he might change it.
Well, when he finished the argument, I -- Brennan turned to me and I said to Justice Brennan, I stood up and I said, "Well, Justice Brennan, ever since I took constitutional law in law school,
it's been my understanding that this court will hear only those issues that were decided by the trial court."
And I said, "Judge Kelly tried this case in Juneau, Alaska, and the position of the state now by the Solicitor
was not brought before Judge Kelly, and none of the issues that the Secretary of Interior Seaton's relying on
were ever brought before Judge Kelly, and so I'm not going to address those because it's my understanding this court will not entertain those."
I -- that was a mistake, because Brennan just turned -- he got so outraged and -- anyway, that's the way I argued it.
So when we left, as we were walking out of the courtroom I asked the -- our consultant,
the former president of the -- the former attorney for the Alaska Bar -- American Bar Association, what Brennan would do.
And he said, "Well," he says, "I'm going to tell you.
You don't have an understanding of the position of the Solicitor General has in the Department of Justice, and Brennan would do whatever he suggested."
And Brennan did just what he suggested.
So anyway, Kake and Angoon and Metlakatla later on operated a trap.
But it then went to -- what happened was the Supreme Court of Alaska was established.
And Nesbett was Chief Justice. And Justice Dimond from Juneau was selected.
And Hodge from Nome and when --
the Supreme Court of the United States then remanded the case to the Supreme Court of Alaska, which upheld the ordinance.
And then it came before -- that was then appealed to the full court.
And Brennan -- not Brennan -- Frankfurter was the one who was in charge of the court when that case was argued.
And that case came down in favor of State of Alaska and it was a unanimous decision.
Even Brennan joined it. That's the whole --
MS. RUSSELL: Interesting. JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- thing about the fish trap case.
MS. RUSSELL: You were on the Alaska Supreme Court for three years -- or about, weren't you, not -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: Right.
MS. RUSSELL: -- not terribly long. Did you get to know Justice Rabinowitz quite well at that point? He was --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, I knew him very well, and I knew him in Fairbanks.
MS. RUSSELL: He was the Chief Justice at the time?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: He was Chief Justice the entire time that I was on the court.
MS. RUSSELL: What was your other connection with him, if he was from Fairbanks and you were from Anchorage?
Was it through the courts that you knew him primarily?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Everything came through the court, really.
There were two -- there were three justices out of Anchorage, Justice Erwin, Justice Conner, and myself.
And Justice Boochever was appointed out of Juneau and it was Rabinowitz out of Fairbanks.
And that's how the court was -- operated.
And everything had to be circulated by draft opinion of some sort.
MS. RUSSELL: And then you held arguments where?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah, we'd schedule arguments like in the -- there'd be arguments scheduled in Anchorage, arguments scheduled in Fairbanks, and arguments scheduled in Juneau.
MS. RUSSELL: So you sat together with --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, always the court -- MS. RUSSELL: -- Justice Rabinowitz and the other -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- sat together. MS. RUSSELL: Yeah. Yeah. JUDGE FITZGERALD: Uh-huh.
MS. RUSSELL: Do you have any particular recollections of any of the justices that you served with at the time?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: That I served with?
MS. RUSSELL: Hm-mm. Justice Rabinowitz, for example -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, he -- MS. RUSSELL: -- what was his --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: He was -- because he appointed who was going to write draft the opinions and so forth
and allocated the cases and so forth, he was by far the most influential justice then.
It -- the court had -- the Bar had decided that they wanted to limit the authority of the Chief Justice for so many years.
And so they set -- I think it was three years at the time, and at the end of three years the Chief Justice would be replaced by another justice.
And -- but Justice Rabinowitz pretty much controlled the vote as to who was going to replace and who was the Chief Justice.
And when he was replaced, Boochever was appointed. And --
MS. RUSSELL: Did he have any particular philosophy that you remember that he followed in his -- was he political at all or was he an ideologue at all or --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: He was -- yeah, he was a good writer. ]His opinions were very well drafted and that sort of thing. MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And when I was on the court, he had by far the main influence.
MS. RUSSELL: While you were on the -- in the Supreme Court, is it my understanding that you at one time sat as a trial judge in Kodiak at the same time? JUDGE FITZGERALD: Uh-huh.
MS. RUSSELL: How did that come about?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, what happened is there -- when I was in the U.S. Attorney's Office here, Anchorage did not have any control over the utility districts surrounding Anchorage.
For instance, Mountain View was a utility district, Fairview was a utility district, Spenard was a utility district, East Chester was a utility district.
And the only jurisdiction that Anchorage had was within the city itself, within the city boundaries. MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And so the one -- the law enforcement outside of the City of Anchorage was left to the U.S. marshals.
And of course they didn't -- they were only a few deputy marshals. MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And the marshal who was -- that really was most influential in the Marshal's Office was -- Chief Deputy, was Jim Chenowith.
MS. RUSSELL: That was here in Anchorage, right?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Right. MS. RUSSELL: What was the trial in Kodiak that you sat on?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, but this -- it's all -- that was all part of this district. MS. RUSSELL: Oh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: There were four districts. There were four territorial courts.
There was a district in Nome, one in Anchorage, one in Southeast Alaska -- or Ketchikan and Juneau, and one in Fairbanks.
MS. RUSSELL: But you were on -- when you were on the Supreme Court, it wasn't a territory any longer, was it?
I mean, by this time it was a state.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: No, it wasn't a territory, but it -- the jurisdiction of the -- for instance, the Chief Judge here in Anchorage was --
had a great deal to say about what was going on in Kodiak or all the way out the Chain.
And the -- they had a deputy marshal in Kodiak, and he was the only deputy marshal there.
But his jurisdiction ran all the way out the Chain.
MS. RUSSELL: And you -- did they have a court in Kodiak at the time that you went out there or -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: (Indiscernible). MS. RUSSELL: -- why would a Supreme Court judge sit in a --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, it was -- they had a trial court judge there.
And what had happened is I'd gotten bored with just being in -- writing opinions and whatever.
And so I told the court administrator for the Alaska Court System that I'd give the
Anchorage Trial Court a week a month and I would sit as a trial judge. And so --
MS. RUSSELL: Was that controversial at all for you to do that?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah, it became controversial. And what had happened is, earlier when I was in the U.S. Attorney's Office,
there was a lot of -- law enforcement in this area was very sporadic.
For instance, East Chester Flats was going full- bore 24 hours a day. MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And there was no law enforcement down there hardly at all.
And there were shootings, all kinds of things happening. The bars ran it.
So what happened is the -- there were some -- the FBI had some jurisdiction and they had jurisdiction in areas that
involved bringing in women for prostitutes and so forth, and all that.
And many women were brought in from Outside as prostitutes in these places like East Chester and whatever.
MS. RUSSELL: And was that true still during the '70s, when you were on the Supreme Court? Was that -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: Uh-huh. MS. RUSSELL: That was still the case?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: It was still, because the -- there was no law enforcement in these utility districts. MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And they had to rely on the U.S. Marshal.
And the -- what happened is, is that there were -- oh, it's a long story --
MS. RUSSELL: We did talk about that, I think, quite a bit -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah. MS. RUSSELL: -- last time.
I'm wondering, as a Supreme Court judge -- justice, did you actually sit as a trial judge in Anchorage at all, or was it just in Kodiak that you had a trial?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: No, I sat mostly -- when I sat outside, I sat mostly outside, like in Kodiak or in different places.
MS. RUSSELL: Okay. What would happen if one of those cases then -- was that the controversy, that that case might -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: That was one of the -- MS. RUSSELL: -- come up to the Supreme Court?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: I remember Rabinowitz coming up to me one time and
telling me that a case that I'd sat on outside and was coming before the court and I couldn't, of course, participate in it.
And I said I recognized that.
But the case that got a lot of publicity and all that was -- involved the killing of Johnny Rich.
MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh. Yes, and I think that's been -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: (Indiscernible) --
MS. RUSSELL: -- yeah, that's pretty well established -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah. MS. RUSSELL: -- story, isn't it. Yeah. JUDGE FITZGERALD: And so --
MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh. And were you on the Supreme Court then or -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well -- MS. RUSSELL: -- were you on the trial --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- he was -- before I went to the Supreme Court, before -- MS. RUSSELL: Okay.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- the state was established, there was a lot of -- when I say a lot of violence and whatever, in this area.
The City of Anchorage was pretty well policed; outside of the City of Anchorage, it wasn't. MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And Rich had a -- he used -- had a reputation.
And what he wanted to do was to take over this house where the --
he had become acquainted with a woman that -- a younger woman that ran it,
and the guy who had been in -- operating the house had been killed.
And so Rich planned to take it over.
Well, what happened is then the guy who later on was prosecuted in Kodiak for killing Rich arranged to have Rich killed here.
And he had a couple of local guys do the killing out in Eagle River.
And Rich's body was taken and hauled up Coal Mine Road out of Wasilla -- out of --
between Wasilla and Palmer, and was buried there.
And then when the local police heard about it, they investigated.
But they -- and they went up the Buffalo Coal Mine Road, but they weren't able to find Rich's body.
And what happened is, they -- there was a state trooper, he had heard about it,
and because Eagle River was an independent jurisdiction in the Anchorage Police Department, he was pretty upset.
So he interviewed the guy who they suspected, and he got in touch with Boyko's secretary,
and she had a daughter, and, anyway, they took the daughter and another state trooper and went up off the Coal Mine Road.
And the daughter had been with -- in the car when Rich's body was put in the trunk and taken up Buffalo Coal Mine Road and buried.
And she had a better memory. And when she -- and she was able to locate the body.
And the body was exhumed.
And they even had taken a -- basically a confession from the guy,
but the guy said he hadn't been the one who fired the fatal shot.
MS. RUSSELL: And did -- is -- did this matter come before you as a Superior Court judge?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: This is the trial in Kodiak.
MS. RUSSELL: Oh, that was the one in Kodiak, okay. JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah. And so -- MS. RUSSELL: I see.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- the case was then ordered to trial, but because it had so much publicity around here.
And it was voted for trial in Kodiak. So I went over and tried it.
MS. RUSSELL: And that was while you were on the Supreme Court that you tried that? JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah. MS. RUSSELL: I see. JUDGE FITZGERALD: So anyway --
MS. RUSSELL: Well, you get -- you got bored on the Supreme Court and then you got a chance to be a trial judge again, right, at the U.S. District Court? JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah.
MS. RUSSELL: And did you snap that up? Did -- were you glad to make that change?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: At first I didn't. I'd gone to some appellate judge seminar -- seminars at Columbia University in New York City.
And anyway, what had happened was, when I was back there, I got a call from my secretary out here in Anchorage,
and she had said that the Attorney General, who was a guy by the name of Saxbe at that time,
had called, and she had given him the telephone number that she was able to get me on. But he tried to call me on it and then couldn't.
But he wanted me to call him, and I did call him in Washington.
He asked me to stop off in Washington on my way back to Anchorage after I'd completed the seminar at Columbia University, so I did.
And what had happened is there was a -- the -- there had been two federal judges up here,
and one was Ray Plummer and the other was -- had been Judge von der Heydt. But von der Heydt had been appointed in Nome.
They both finally located in Anchorage in the (indiscernible).
They got another vacan -- they decided they'd put another judge, and when he -- now it was Republicans in authority.
Well, what happened is the Attorney General of the United States wanted the Attorney General of Alaska, G. Kent Edwards, appointed as a U.S. District judge.
Well, there was again a lot of opposition in Anchorage.
And the Anchorage Bar, with the help of Edgar Paul Boyko and some others got a resolution that opposed the appointment of G. Kent Edwards.
The Attorney General as the new federal district judge.
MS. RUSSELL: On what grounds, do you know?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, there was political grounds, more than anything.
And there was Republicans now in control.
MS. RUSSELL: And Edwards was a Democrat?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Edwards was a Republican.
But what had happened is that Saxbe said the -- had gotten this resolution passed in Anchorage,
and it was against Kent Edwards, and there was just almost no possibility that G. Kent Edwards could be
named and affirmed by the Senate as a federal district judge.
Because of this Bar resolution and whatever, and -- so I said to --
and Saxbe was saying that if -- he'd heard that I wanted to go back to trial court, and if I did, I could be appointed to the U.S. District Court.
And I said that'll never work, because I've been a lifelong Democrat.
And the other two judges are Democrat, and what happened now is Ford had become President,
and so -- I'll always remember Saxbe's remark -- and I don't want to see this printed because he said, "It serves the S.O.B.s right."
Anyway, what happened was he told me that if I applied, I could get confirmed, because I --
the Department of Justice would support me all the way -- MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- and so, anyhow, I told him I had to think about it, and I came back out here and I didn't apply.
And finally I got a call from the Deputy Attorney General.
And he said, "You -- if you're going to apply, you have to do it now." He said, "And I've talked to the Attorney General and he can't understand why you won't apply and whatever."
And I said, well, I -- G. Kent Edwards had talked to me before this all happened and he said, "I wouldn't apply if he was going to be in,
if he was -- I wasn't -- I'm not going to oppose him."
Well, in about an hour I got a call from G. Kent Edwards and he said,
"Go ahead and apply." He says, "I can't make it." He said, "I've talked to the Attorney General."
So I applied. And it went through just fine.
It went through very smoothly and quickly.
MS. RUSSELL: What was the objection to Edwards in the resolution?
Did the -- they state what the objection was?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: It was -- I don't know the exact words of it anymore, but -- MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- I know he was really upset about it, and most -- almost everybody that applied was a Republican.
But some of the things they said in opposition to G. Kent Edwards, because they wanted a judge at that point from here.
And it was -- they really were very, very biased against G. Kent Edwards.
MS. RUSSELL: While you've been on the District Court, you've had, I guess, some pretty notable cases.
One was The United States versus Lew Dischner.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, yeah. MS. RUSSELL: That was a long one, it looks like, about seven-month trial. What kind of issues --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah. It actually took about six months.
But the -- took the jury about three weeks for a verdict.
MS. RUSSELL: What were the -- was that a criminal case? Obviously -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yes. MS. RUSSELL: -- it was, U.S. versus Dischner. JUDGE FITZGERALD: Right.
MS. RUSSELL: What were the charges in that case?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: What was the trial -- what was it about?
It was about bribery on the North Slope.
The North Slope Borough had been given preference by the Alaska legislature and could levy taxes on the -- at Prudhoe Bay.
And it made the North Slope Borough very -- have all --
tremendous amount of funds, in taxing the oil patch on Prudhoe Bay.
And that -- what happened then is that there were outside corporations
and big corporations, and they got projects up in -- on the North Slope.
And they began paying kickbacks and then paying Dischner and Mathison, who had the influence on the North Slope.
And they began getting about 10 percent of the kickbacks, which was a lot of money.
I mean, ran into the millions.
And that's -- the FBI had gotten involved in the investigation.
And when the FBI got involved in the investigation, there was -- the --
there was so much corruption up there in the North Slope locally that they -- they
really had to do a lengthy investigation, and did a lengthy investigation.
But they couldn't get any cooperation from the state.
MS. RUSSELL: So who was bribing whom? I mean, what were they looking for that -- the borough was paying somebody off or what? What was --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah, what would happen is there were these projects that -- they'd build schools and all the rest of these.
And they had millions of dollars available through the North Slope Borough,
and they were operating out of the Northwest, Seattle, and some in Portland.
And they were paying the bribes to some of the officials up on the North Slope. And -- MS. RUSSELL: Okay.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- they were -- and part of the bribes were also going to Dischner and Mathison, because -- MS. RUSSELL: Who --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- they had the influence of the -- MS. RUSSELL: Okay.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- people in power on the North Slope.
MS. RUSSELL: And was Dischner convicted then?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: They were both convicted.
MS. RUSSELL: Okay. And did they go to prison or --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: They both went to prison.
MS. RUSSELL: You had another case that involved an airplane crash in Bombay, India.
Do I understand that you had to apply the law of India in that case?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah, I applied the law of -- well, it was the law of England that was extended into India when we tried that case.
MS. RUSSELL: Was that difficult? It must have been interesting.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: It was a very, very difficult case, because the --
it was a Boeing 747 and it crashed off Bombay and everyone was killed.
And the -- there were lawsuits filed by a big company -- law firm in the United States.
And the original place it was brought, Seattle, had to do with the failure of parts on the 747.
And they -- the defense claim was that was not caused by the failure of any mechanism or parts on the aircraft,
but was caused because the pilot was a -- had very severe diabetes and that the plane flight out of --
had been delayed the night before and he'd been drinking.
And when he took off in the morning, the plane took off in --
off at Bombay, and as it got into the air, ithat he misread the instruments.
And that he turned the plane and he turned the plane so steeply that the plane just went into the ocean and everyone was killed.
And they were able to recover the parts and whatever.
But what happened is they had a -- the 747 had instruments made and -- by measure of instrument contractors.
And the claim was that the -- that when the pilot -- when this was set, the pilot misread them.
MS. RUSSELL: How did that end up in the Anchorage court?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, it ended up in Seattle.
MS. RUSSELL: Oh. You tried it -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: I was -- MS. RUSSELL: -- in Seattle?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: I tried it in Seattle. And they -- the -- when they recovered the parts and whatever, they had a cockpit voice recorder,
and a lot of the information was on the cockpit voice recorder.
And you could hear ask the pilot. He said, "RER (ph)" -- that's an Indian term -- "my instruments."
And the co-pilot said, "Mine too."
And the flight engineer who was on board -- there were three of these instruments, one in the --
for the pilot, one for the co-pilot, and one in between them. MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And the flight engineer was looking at the one in the middle,
and he said, "No, no, no, go by this, Captain."
And -- but the captain had just kept tipping the plane and the plane went completely over and into the water.
MS. RUSSELL: Was it difficult understanding how to apply the law of the -- of another country?
Is that what made it hard for you?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah, and because we had to apply aviation law as it was applied in England,
and the courts in India followed the -- had of course been under English law for a long time and they continued to follow it.
Well, what had happened is, is that the -- there was a --
there were disputes as to what the law in England was and whatever.
And these lawyers -- the major firm that was prosecuting the case came out of New York.
And the -- but they had -- the defense had topflight attorneys from the west.
And what happened is they took trips. They went to India, they went to England, they did depositions all over.
And it was -- it went to the -- when it went to jury, the jury found the pilot had been drinking.
And they had a medical examiner, and his whole specialty was the problems with -- that affected the inner ear.
And what distorted the pilot was -- is that when he was drinking, this -- what he --
what makes you stumble and fall here -- when you're drinking is what -- is the alcohol that gets into the blood areas of your middle ear.
And they distort your vision and your orientation -- MS. RUSSELL: Sense of balance. JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- and all of that stuff. MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And what had happened is this pilot had drank so much that his --
there was no question about it, he's -- he was not reading the instruments correctly.
MS. RUSSELL: You had another crash case in San Diego. Did you sit in San Diego on another airplane crash?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah.
MS. RUSSELL: Was that an interesting case as well? That had a lot of Japanese -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, that -- MS. RUSSELL: -- passengers?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: See, what had happened is the -- this Japanese firm has bought in -- had bought into a --
into a Mexican company that manufactured parts and so forth.
And the -- there was some -- the engineers that advised this Mexican firm were educators out of Japan.
And what had happened is they had been in this company, and this instrument had been manufactured there.
And it was in this -- had been put on this airline that -- the airplane had been built in the United States but the part --
some of the parts had come from this manufacturing company in Mexico.
And these -- two of these engineers that were down there were flying aboard this aircraft when it flew out of Mexico and flew to San Diego,
and was going to fly from San Diego and then they were going to fly back to Japan.
Well, as it was making its approach to the San Diego Airport,
the pilot misread or misunderstood the instruments, and he landed short and he landed --
the Mexican airport that they were going to land in was right across the American border in Tijuana.
And he hit, they crashed in the United States.
And therefore, the jurisdiction was in the United States.
MS. RUSSELL: And how did you happen to go down there and try that? You --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, I was trying -- I at that time would spend about,
oh, a month or a month and a half down in San Diego, because they needed a lot of help.
And we were available.
MS. RUSSELL: I see, your calendar was lighter, and so --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And I just drew the case down there. MS. RUSSELL: I see.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And I tried it. And the investigator in that came from the federal government and investigated.
He made a terrible mistake.
Because the plane had crashed and the -- it was out in a very broad field.
And the police from San Diego had gone down and they protected anybody --
they protected the aircraft and anybody from getting on the aircraft or anything else until it was inspected.
Well, this inspector came down from Los Angeles, a NTSB inspector.
And NTSB operates out of Washington.
And he decided that he didn't want anybody to have anything to say about this, and he ordered the Mexican --
the San Diego police to withdraw.
And when it came time for -- it was getting dark and whatever.
Everybody, including the inspector and his -- over -- left the aircraft.
Well, what happened is, so close to the Tijuana border, Mexican border in Tijuana,
and all kinds of Mexicans came out, and that plane was completely pilfered -- MS. RUSSELL: Oh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- that night. Just absolutely pilfered. The instruments taken, everything.
MS. RUSSELL: That must have been an interesting issue in the trial.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, then when that all came out, and it was -- and the fault was with the United States inspectors,
and, boy, I'll tell you, the jury -- these guys that died in, these two --
and actually they were educators but they also worked as engineers.
And their family sued. And they sued the United States.
MS. RUSSELL: You had some interesting trials. Did -- you went senior in 1988, is that right? About -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: I what?
MS. RUSSELL: You went senior? You went senior -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah. MS. RUSSELL: -- on the court? JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah.
MS. RUSSELL: That was a long time ago, and you've been practicing -- I mean, you've been still --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: I was just down in -- MS. RUSSELL: -- hearing a lot of cases, haven't you?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- Coeur d'Alene, trying a two-week trial about a month ago.
MS. RUSSELL: You still enjoy it?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, what the hell else would I do? I know I have to step aside pretty quick. I will.
MS. RUSSELL: Well, you've been going along for a while.
How many -- how do you think you were -- you've had a number of different areas in your career that are quite different: a prosecutor, a judge, and so forth.
Where did you get your greatest satisfaction, do you think, in your career?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, as a judge, by far.
MS. RUSSELL: And you like the trial judge aspect the best, right?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah, that's what I liked.
MS. RUSSELL: Who were some of the most interesting characters that appeared in front of you, either in the State or District Court?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, I think in that case involving the Air India case and --
these were experts, and they came mostly from the United States, although there were some English experts.
And I think the attorneys were very, very skilled, and they'd gone and taken depositions in India and -- MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- explained to me how the -- I was going to leave it in India and try it by the Indian court.
And, you know, the experts that came from India testifying -- and we had the hearing right here in Anchorage --
on where it should be tried.
And they said that the Indian court system is so delayed that it would be --
the best estimate would be that it would be 10 years before that case was tried in India.
So we took it here.
MS. RUSSELL: That's a deciding factor, huh?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah. Well, we took it in Seattle but the decision to try it in Seattle was made here.
MS. RUSSELL: You saw a lot of changes in the practice of law from the time that you started out.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, a lot.
MS. RUSSELL: How many lawyers were in Anchorage when you got here?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: When I first came up here, I was an assistant U.S. attorney, and there was probably between 25 and 30.
MS. RUSSELL: Did you have close relationships with many of them?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Sure, because over half of them had airplanes, and I was an avid hunter and fisherman.
We'd try a case and fly down to Dillingham, and the lake, and we flew all over.
MS. RUSSELL: I understand that you used to hunt with Don Burr now and then as one of them.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah.
MS. RUSSELL: And I heard a story -- I don't know if you can confirm this -- about Burr being held up by hunting; his secretary got all agitated because he was supposed to be in your court.
Called the court and found out that you were with Burr?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah.
MS. RUSSELL: You remember that?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah. I didn't try it.
MS. RUSSELL: And who else did you hunt with?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, I hunted with -- I hunted a lot with Buell Nesbett, Stanley McCutcheon.
They had a place over on Sucker Lake, and --
oh, just about everybody had an airplane.
It was much more informal in those days.
MS. RUSSELL: And lawyers got together, did they, quite often for coffee or --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: We had a Bar meeting -- the local Bar in Anchorage -- the Alaska Bar didn't really -- hardly existed.
And the local Bar used to have a meeting on usually Saturday noon, in a restaurant down here, and we'd all go down there, have lunch.
And guys would go hunting right away from the lunch and all the rest of it.
I remember one time I went to the lunch on Saturday.
And I'm flying back from being out hunting in a cabin with a -- several guys.
And quite a ways from Anchorage. And it's almost noon Monday, and I'm thinking, what in the name of God am I going to tell my wife?
MS. RUSSELL: And what did you tell her?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: I told her the truth.
MS. RUSSELL: Your wife went through a lot of adventures with you.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah, she did.
MS. RUSSELL: I heard something about losing a child at Alyeska with -- when you were with Ted Stevens and family?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah, that's right. We used to -- his kids and our kids were close, and he and I -- we were neighbors, pretty close neighbors.
And what happened is we took the kids and we had a couple big sedans, and he drove one and I drove the other.
And we went down the -- on the road to Hope, and we cut Christmas trees.
And we'd cut down maybe 10 or 15 Christmas trees.
And we'd take a good one and they'd take a good one, and then we had friends,
and we'd just drive around and drop off the Christmas trees.
And anyway, on the way back, the kids were -- wanted something, a pop or something.
We stopped at the lodge in -- the old lodge that used to be down there, in Girdwood, and got the kids something.
The kids were all mixed up in our carsAnd we drove home. And
we unloaded some trees at our house, and the kids were there,
and we were short one kid. It was one of the young boys, the Stevens boy.
And he had to take his car and go right back down to Girdwood.
MS. RUSSELL: How old was the boy? Do you recall?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, he was probably about maybe eight or ten.
MS. RUSSELL: Oh. He wasn't tiny, at least.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, no, they weren't tiny. MS. RUSSELL: Yeah. Yeah.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: All went to Inlet View.
MS. RUSSELL: Your -- you took your family down the Alaska Highway quite often, didn't you?
Or did you go out to Lake Louise and -- how did you spend your leisure time with your family?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: My summer -- MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh. Any time --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: -- our vacation? MS. RUSSELL: Yeah.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: We drove down to the -- we drove down the -- over the highway in Canada to the west coast, and one time we went to New York.
MS. RUSSELL: Drove?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Drove. What happened is -- I'll tell you the story.
What happened is, we used to camp all the way down -- we -- kids would --
we'd stop and I'd fire up the Coleman for my wife and she'd start getting ready to cook.
And the kids -- there would be a couple kids blowing up air mattresses and helping put up a tent and whatever.
And we'd -- we would camp all the way down and all the way back.
And we were camping on the way down. And we got to Dawson, we were just going to Dawson.
And in the morning my wife said to me, "Well, there's a World's Fair going on in New York.
Why don't we drive to New York and go to the World's Fair with the kids? They'll love it."
And I said sure. So we drove across Canada on the Trans-Canadian Highway and camped all the way across Canada.
We crossed at Buffalo in New York, at where the Falls are, and got into New York probably at about 8:00 o'clock in the evening.
And so I pulled into a service station and a guy filled my tank.
But when I went to pay him, I started walking with him toward his --
he had a dog and the dog was snarling. And he said, "Oh, you can't come in, my dog" --
he had the dog to protect him. So I paid him.
And we tried to find places to stay and we couldn't find a place in New York, everything was booked.
And we stayed in Hartford, Connecticut that night.
Got up there about 2:00 o'clock in the morning because
we'd stop on turnoffs on the way.
And the next day we came down and took the kids in a van to the Bronx Zoo.
And we parked there, and I took the elevated, went in the -- Manhattan, and I went to the Waldorf.
Did I tell you this story? MS. RUSSELL: Huh-uh (negative).
JUDGE FITZGERALD: I went to the Waldorf and -- so I had to wait. There was a lot of people there.
And they have a big counter, and anyway, when I got to the counter the woman asked me my name and I gave it to her.
And she started going through slips and I said, "You won't find me there. I don't have a reservation."
She was looking through reservation slips. And she said,
"What?"I said, "No, I don't have a reservation here."
She said, "Well, we've been booked for months."
So anyway, we got to talking, and she asked me where I came from, and I told her Anchorage, Alaska.
She finally said, "Well, let me go talk to a manager."
So she came out with this assistant manager and he talked to me.
He finally said to her, "Well, we always hold a couple places back." He said, "We'll hold one back and give it to them," he said.
And so he said, "It'll have to be a suite, because they got four kids."
So anyway, she started going through what was available.
And so I happened -- when she found one, I happened to ask her, I said, "What's it going to cost?"
And she told me. And the manager was still standing there. I almost fell on the floor, I couldn't believe it.
And the manager saw me, and he then says to her, "We'll give them a special rate too."
So we stayed at the Waldorf.
And they put us up in this suite, and gave us a great rate, and all the rest of it.
MS. RUSSELL: Just never hurts to ask.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And they -- I had my -- the only checks I had were on the First National up here.
Well, they would take them at that Waldorf, but they wouldn't cash them at the Waldorf.
I mean, I couldn't get more money.
So we finally decided -- Congress was still in session -- we'd drive down to Washington. And I knew the --
knew all of them at that time pretty well.
And we drove to Washington, D.C. I called up a --
MS. RUSSELL: Who did you call?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: I called up our first delegate -- I mean, our first representative in the House, what was his --
MS. RUSSELL: Was that Gruening, Senator -- no, that was a senator.
UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Ralph Rivers?
MS. RUSSELL: Ralph Everson?
UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Ralph Rivers. MS. RUSSELL: Ralph --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Ralph Rivers. MS. RUSSELL: Oh, Ralph Rivers. Oh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: And he said, "I'll send my assistant administrator over to Sergeant at Arms. You meet him over there."
So I went over there. And I started writing checks, and they cashed them up to a certain -- I think it was $200.
And I wrote one after another.
We got enough money, decided that when we leave Washington, we'd go
across the country to California, but we'd go -- we wouldn't go on the major highways.
And we started off, we went through -- we were down in Pennsylvania.
My God, I stopped at a place where Washington had surrendered, and he -- during the French and English War before the --
MS. RUSSELL: The War for Independence?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah. They had -- Washington had been -- command of the colonial troops, and they went over
into the Ohio River valley, but they lost to the French and the French pursued them on the way back.
And Washington had ordered the -- provide the rear guard, and the French surrounded him and he surrendered.
Then we went to Springfield, went to Lincoln's tomb, and we found out a lot about it.
MS. RUSSELL: It sounds like a memorable trip.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Huh? MS. RUSSELL: Sounds like a memorable trip for the -- for your family.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Yeah. We went to Hannibal, Missouri, and -- where Mark Twain was, and his girlfriend. MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: To Salt Lake and swam in the lake, and all the way to Santa Cruz.
Well, when I went to Santa Cruz, we wanted to camp,
but they had weekly camp places on the -- California did, and -- but you had to -- they were booked.
You had to check in at 10:00 every -- by 10:00 every morning or by 4:00 every afternoon.
And the second day I went to drive in, they had told me it would be a week or 10 days before I could get a campsite.
I drove up to the gate, and the guy saw my Alaska plate and he said, "Where are you from in Alaska?"
And I said Anchorage.
And he said, "Oh, I used to work for the Corps of Engineers up there in Anchorage."
We got talking, and so he said, "When are you booked for this place?" I said, "Well, I'm coming in at 4:00 this afternoon,
I'll be coming in at 10:00 and 4:00 till I finally get a campsite."
He said, "Come in," he said, "around 2:00 o'clock and I'll get you a campsite."
And he did. MS. RUSSELL: That was lucky.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: So we camped a week out there.
And I was looking -- trying to find a place that'd cash my First National Bank checks,
and those banks didn't want to touch them.
And I'm walking down the street in Santa Cruz, my wife's got the kids and she's looking
over their clothes. She says, "If you get any money, we're going to buy our clothes --
the kids' clothes cause they come back just in time for school."
And I'm walking up the street, and who do I run into? I ran into Leroy Barker.
And Leroy Barker has left Anchorage.
He said, "What are you doing here?" He says, "Oh, Susan and -- Suzanne and myself," he said, "We brought our kids down here. We're out of Alaska. We'll never go back up there."
I said, "Can you help me cash some checks?" And he said, "Oh, yeah." So --
MS. RUSSELL: I didn't know that about Leroy. How long was he outside before he came back?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, he was out about six or eight months.
It -- I mean, he's not going to come back to Anchorage, he told me, or anyplace in Alaska.
I'm in court one day, I'm still in the Superior Court, and who walks in but Leroy Barker.
I didn't even know he was in town.
But he's been here ever since. And his son married a Japanese girl, and I -- he asked me to do the marriage, and I did.
That boy still lives in Tokyo.
MS. RUSSELL: You're -- do you think that your career was shaped quite a bit by the development of Alaska from territory to state and all of those things?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, God, yes. Absolutely.
When we first came up here, we came in '50 -- we were in Southeast for two years. MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Ketchikan and in Juneau. We came up here in '54. And Anchorage had about 35,000 people, I think.
But the only paved street was this one out here.
And if you drove down L Street, there -- it was muddy and rocky, and they had the big birches on each side of the street.
And beautiful drive in the summer, but in the winter it was awful.
Breakup, it was bad. MS. RUSSELL: Did -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: And --
MS. RUSSELL: How did -- how do you think the lawyers' practices have changed since you started out?
Do you think that there's a difference in intensity or --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Tremendously different.
MS. RUSSELL: Can you characterize that?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, they were -- the firms were much smaller than these guys,
and it was very -- the law practice was very personal in those days.
And now they're big firms, and all the rest of it is quite different.
MS. RUSSELL: People don't know each other as much as they did. JUDGE FITZGERALD: Mm, mm (negative). MS. RUSSELL: Would you --
JUDGE FITZGERALD: No, and they're not as close as they used to be.
MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh. Would you have any advice you could offer to new judges in particular or new lawyers?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, I have a -- I've got a son who practices just right up the street here
and a daughter who is married to a lawyer and they both practice.
MS. RUSSELL: And she's -- oh, she's not a lawyer, or she is too? JUDGE FITZGERALD: My daughter? MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh. JUDGE FITZGERALD: One daughter is. Yeah.
MS. RUSSELL: So you -- what do you tell them about being a judge? Are they interested?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, no, I don't talk to them about their practice or their cases.
I told them that they'd have to -- if they wanted to go to law school,
we'd pay for the law school but they would have to work in a law office for probably pretty close to a year,
and they all did, and they've all worked in a law office for about a year before they went to law school.
MS. RUSSELL: Just to make sure they liked it, or were interested.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, and we had a deal, if they wanted to go to liberal arts,
they could go either in the east coast or west coast. If they wanted to go to a graduate school after that,
they'd have to go to the other coast.
And the daughter who's a lawyer, she went to Pomona, and she spent a year in France, and then she went east to Northeastern Law School.
And the boy went to Harvard and then he came west to go to law school.
So they've all -- all our kids went to college and went to graduate school at each coast.
MS. RUSSELL: Well, not only in the eyes of your children but future lawyers and judges in this state, how would you like to be remembered?
What would you like to be remembered for? What do you think is your biggest contributions, that kind of thing?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: I can't tell you. Never really have seriously thought about it.
I think if I -- I just want to stay out of trouble.
MS. RUSSELL: You haven't always succeeded at that, have you?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: No, I haven't.
MS. RUSSELL: Well, you've certainly expressed a lot of satisfaction in the work that you've had, the career that you've had.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, I've had a colorful career in many different places,
and when I went -- first went -- came to Ketchikan and Southeast, first --
my boss got suspended; I had to prosecute the Chief of Police of Ketchikan, the Captain of Police.
MS. RUSSELL: That was certainly an interesting time in your career, for sure.
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, my God, yeah. Folta, who was the territorial judge, ordered me to Fairbanks --
I mean to Juneau, and I got -- I had to prosecute the U.S. marshal there.
MS. RUSSELL: We talked about that, I think, in our first session, so -- JUDGE FITZGERALD: Oh, yeah. MS. RUSSELL: -- it was -- yeah. JUDGE FITZGERALD: It was --
MS. RUSSELL: Did it seem too tame for you as your -- as the years wound on and you were
sitting on civil cases and doing a lot of regular courtroom work that wasn't quite so dramatic?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Well, it depends on -- the civil case I tried in Coeur d'Alene took two --
almost two weeks, and very emotional case, a very, very emotional case.
MS. RUSSELL: So all your cases are interesting in different ways?
JUDGE FITZGERALD: Some of them are, some of them aren't.
MS. RUSSELL: Uh-huh. Yeah. I think we're pretty much ready to wrap up, Judge. JUDGE FITZGERALD: Okay.
MS. RUSSELL: Thank you very much.