Judge judged

the target

Retired judge Karl Johnston/ADF&G photo

Two more women who worked closely with retired Anchorage Superior Court Judge Karl Johnstone when he served on the Alaska Board of Fisheries prior to 2015 say they saw no sign of the sexual harassment of which Johnstone stands anonymously accused, and the current  director of the Board on Tuesday joined others within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game saying no one ever reported any sexual harassment.

Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy tried to reappoint Johnstone to the Board this year only to have Johnstone’s confirmation rejected by the Alaska Legislature after Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, said “more than two women” who worked for the Board contacted her to say they’d been sexually harassed by Johnstone.

Ivy’s brief and suggestive comments came during a joint meeting of the House and Senate on Thursday. The meeting was scheduled to vote on confirmation of Dunleavy cabinet and other appointees, among them Fish Board members. Spohnholz offered no details on what exactly was alleged to have taken place and said the women wished to remain anonymous.

Austin Baird, the spokesman for the House Majority, said Monday that he did not know how many women were alleging sexual harassment. He referred all questions to Spohnholz. She did not respond to an email or a detailed message left with her staff.

House speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, likewise failed to respond to both email and phone requests for comment. The 77-year-old Johnstone issued a statement saying he didn’t sexually harass anyone.

Johnstone’s appointment to the Board had drawn aggressive opposition from the United Fishermen of Alaska (UFA), one of the state’s most powerful political interest groups. The UFA rallied commercial fishermen across the state in an effort to block Johnstone’s confirmation, but it was widely believed the organization lacked the votes to succeed before Spohnholz dropped her bombshell.

After the revelation, the Legislature voted 33-to-24 block the Johnstone confirmation. Suzanne Downing, the editor of the right-leaning, later accused the heavily Democrat House Majority of “weaponizing” an anonymous #metoo accusation.

The Legislature vetoing a gubernatorial appointment to a board or commission solely on the basis of a rumor is unprecedented in state history.

Small staff

The effort to fully fact check what is essentially a rumor has proven difficult. Among those who worked closely with the Board, a former executive director who was a woman and two top staff say they faced no harassment, but there are other women out there yet to be contacted.

One of the two women who worked closely with Johnstone while he was on the Board was Frances Leach, who is now the executive director of the UFA. The UFA wanted to stop Johnstone’s reappointment because he had in the past supported shifting some harvest of Cook Inlet sockeye salmon from commercial fishermen to personal-use dipnetters and anglers.

Cook Inlet at the door of Anchorage is the most fought over fishery in the 49th state. The Inlet doesn’t produce enough salmon to meet the demands of commercial fishermen let alone enough to provide for harvests for the state’s personal-use dipnetters and tourist anglers without commercial fishermen getting angry that they’ve been robbed of income.

Were that not enough of a problem, the Board has no standards to guide it in determining the highest and best use of the fish. 

Leach worked for the Board first as a publications specialist and then as a regulations specialist during a time when the Cook Inlet fish wars were contentious. She spent a fair amount of time around Johnstone in that job.

“Karl never sexually harassed me nor did I make claims he did so,” she said in response to an email. “My conversations with legislators (during confirmation proceedings in Juneau) were limited to his biases towards the commercial fishing industry and questions surrounding his residency.”

Susie Brito-Jenkins, the spouse of a commercial fishermen in Bristol Bay and a one-time coworker of Leach shed a little more light on that comment. Brito-Jenkins was the Southwest regional coordinator for Board support during much of the period Johnstone was on the Board. 

Reached by phone at her home in Dillingham on Tuesday, she confessed to being a little surprised at the accusations leveled at the retired judge.

“I never saw anything,” she said. “I have talked to a couple of other folks about this.”

Leach was one of them. The two women had trouble reconciling the Johnstone they knew with the accusation, though Brito-Jenkins admitted that she, like Leach, was opposed to Johnstone rejoining the Board.

She shared the belief of others in the commercial fishing industry that Johnstone had a bias in favor of sport fishing interests. And she said he could sometimes be abrasive and make witnesses before the Board uncomfortable with his probing questions.

The closest thing she ever saw to anything remotely sexual, however, was Johnstone offering a woman a comment that, “Oh, you look nice,” she said.

She and other Board staff, she added, sometimes went to dinner with Board members after long days at work and sometimes had drinks together, but there were no sexual overtones.

“That was never my experience,” she said.

“I can’t speak for everyone,” Brito-Jenkins said, but admitted she found Spohnholz’s allegations “troubling.”

Had there been a problem, Brito-Jenkins added, she wouldn’t have hesitated to go to either of the bosses for whom she worked to ask for help. She said she had faith in both and described them as do some others who’ve worked for the past and present director.

“Monica (Wellard) would have gotten in his (Johnstone’s) face in a heart beat,” Brito-Jenkins said, while Glenn Haight, Wellard’s successor, would have handled the complaint in quieter, more “professional” manner to see that the problem was resolved.

Supervisory roles

Wellard is already on record saying that no one ever reported an incident of sexual harassment to her. If they had, she said, “I certainly would have done something about it.” 

Haight, who took over for Wellard in 2013 on Monday said in a telephone interview that no sexual harassment was ever reported to him, that he saw none, and that if either had been the case he would have acted.

Over the phone, Haight sounded somewhat irritated to even be asked about the matter.

“If we received any accusations, we would follow procedure,” he said, but there were never any accusations. He said he couldn’t even recall a mention of sexual harassment coming up in casual conversations with his staff.

The Board support section of Fish and Game is small. Counting regional office personnel who work for both the Board of Fish and the Board of Game, which regulates wildlife management in the state, “we have a staff of 11 people total,” Haight said.

Only three or four of those employees would be in attendance at an ordinary meeting of the Board of Fish or the Board of Game, he added. Outside of the Board meetings, which take up 25 to 35 days per year, he said, he has regular contact with Board members but Board member contacts with other staff are limited.

The Board section staff works for Fish and Game, not the Board. Board members do not have offices at Fish and Game. There is no boss-employee relationship between Board members and staff, and the ability of Board members to influence the careers of Fish and Game employees appear limited to non-existent.

A Johnstone recommendation to UFA to hire Leach might have done her more harm than good while Johnstone opposition to the hire would be more likely to help than hurt.

These things make the #metoo accusations only more confounding as does Spohnholz’s statement that “more than two” women were sexually harassed. Baird could not explain whether that meant three or four or more.

“All I can say is more than two,” he said Monday. “As (Spohnholz) described it, it’s multiple women.”

Any further details, he said, would have to come from Spohnholz, who isn’t talking.



22 replies »

  1. And this would be why women don’t like to make public accusations. Bloggers like Medred and Downing scream about fairness and “due process” and then start an internet witch hunt in the hopes to making the accuser(s) public.
    Furthermore – Johnstone hardly has a record of integrity.

    • was this comment meant as an illustration of the problem? guess what i got when i pinged your email to say: “happy to approve this comment, but as with many others i need to know if this is a real email from a real person before doing so. you’d be amazed how many of these ping back from accounts that don’t exist?”

      “Message not delivered
      “There was a problem delivering your message to
      “The response from the remote server was:
      “550 5.1.1 [R2] Recipient does not exist here.”

      the views of someone who doesn’t exist should be given exactly how much credibility? probably about as much credibility as the opinion of someone who thinks rumors should trump facts.

    • Akiceman, maybe it is because of liars like these?
      Christine Blasey Ford, Julie Swetnik, Anita Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and the rest of the psychos at the “#metoo factory”.

    • Akiceman , I’m curious please fill us in on Johnstones record? You say his record is not full of integrity. Are you playing character assault ? Trying to smear him and affect public opinion or do you have Facts? Proove it . We are waiting.

  2. The pound me, too allegation is a great weapon. Most effective when the counter-party makes it. In this case smells pretty fishy.

  3. Cathy Giessel’s office isn’t responding either. Did have a spirited discussion with Smiling Chuck Kopp afterwards. Primary season is going to be most interesting. Cheers –

  4. Thank you Commercial Fisheries Industry and Alaska Legislatures who voted “No” to confirm Karl Johnstone to the Alaska Board of Fisheries for showing Alaskan voters what your made of.
    Alaskan individual salmon gathers will be reminded of how low you will go in 2020.
    Count on that.

    • Alaska individual salmon gatherers have been remarkably loathe to organize and return fire. Time to change that. I have some ideas for your consideration. Give me a call. Cheers –

  5. When the Alaska legislature voted to refuse the Judge Johnstone nomination to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, it committed a plain due process violation of the U.S. 5th and 14th Amendments. The Due Process Clause required a hearing on the Johnstone accusations “before” a vote but Coghill and Begich ignored that requirement and pushed for an immediate vote without a hearing. Due process either protects everyone from unsubstantiated accusations or it protects nobody from them.

    • Although “Due Process” is a nice catch all phrase, it is specifically about legal rights and judicial proceedings.
      “Due process is the legal requirement that the state must respect all legal rights that are owed to a person.”
      Since Karl was not charged with a crime and these nominations were voted on in a Legislative session, I am not sure how relevant the “Due Process” argument is?
      “The Supreme Court has refused to give an exact definition of due process and makes decisions on a case-by-case basis.”
      This situation is unique since Ivy has pointed out that there is no way for anyone to provide “anonymous” testimony during Legislative Hearings?
      “If there was a way to have a fair hearing where the victims of alleged sexual harassment would be able to provide testimony or information that would ensure confidentiality, it might be an entirely different issue,” she said.
      We can also see why these women are choosing to remain anonymous since Ivy has already been receiving “blowback” for delivering the message to Legislators…
      “She said she herself has received threats over social media and telephone since the vote. Some of those threats have been referred to police, she said.”

      • Steve,

        Seems like you aren’t very familiar with due process since you’ve simply quoted a few lines from some unknown source that you’ve failed to cite.

        Maybe you aren’t aware that the legislature is where laws are made and they are the governing body. For the legislature to simply do away with due process should get every Alaskans and every Americans attention. If you want to find out more about due process and what it means Google due process and the US Constitution pay attention to the 5th and 14th Amendments.

        The reason Ivy is receiving blowback as you call it is because as a sitting legislator she violated this mans rights as well as the legislative process.

        Stop making excuses for the unexcusable.

      • Goes like this Steve:
        “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. The right of all persons to fair and just treatment in the course of legislative and executive investigations shall not be infringed.”

      • Actually, Steve, a process does exist. The women are pretty well protected by state law and their union if they file a sexual harassment complaint with their supervisor.

        Did Spohnholz advise them to do so in order to get this cleared up?

      • Steve O…
        I did Google due process…
        That is where my first two quotes came from.
        This is common knowledge.
        Even though the legislature “makes the laws” it is the judiciary who “enforces them”….
        So if Karl feels his “due process” was hindered he should file a lawsuit.
        That is how our justice system works.
        “Due process has also been frequently interpreted as limiting laws and legal proceedings (see substantive due process) so that judges, instead of legislators, may define and guarantee fundamental fairness, justice, and liberty.”
        I think this is straight forward and the Legislators had NO responsibility to call Karl back in for “questioning”…by preliminary estimates he would not have passed the vote without the harassment allegations.
        This is starting to seem like a “dead horse”…
        Next nominee please!

      • Best advice yet Steve – “he should file a lawsuit”. Amen to that. These men should sue everyone of these women. I mean, Soro’s money is bound to run out eventually – right?

      • Steve,

        Ivy seems to share the concerns that myself and others have over this issue. In fact today she said “Legitimate concerns about due process have been raised…I share those concerns.”

        Sometimes (most of the time) just clicking on the first link or two that you google will not provide an adequate knowledge base to form an opinion. Wikipedia is a decent starting point but in no way should be used to form in depth understanding of anything. Due process is much, much more than what you’ve copy and pasted. I honestly do hope you inform yourself about what it means and I will gladly offer suggestions for reading material if you are interested.

      • Steve O…
        You are free to post links to back up your argument, I just feel it is weak at best.
        Due process is used when someone feels they are deprived of life, liberty or property.
        I do not feel any of those stipulations were met.
        There are many precedents in case law for “due process” defense and the supreme court has ruled it does NOT protect your “Reputation”.
        “The most obvious requirement of the Due Process Clause if that states afford certain procedures (“due process”) before depriving individuals of certain interests (“life, liberty, or property”)…
        “The Supreme Court adopted a more literal interpretation and requires individuals to show that the interest in question is either their life, their liberty, or their property–if the interest doesn’t fall into one of those three boxes, no matter how important it is, it doesn’t qualify for constitutional protection.”
        “Thus, for example, the Court has ruled that the government may  severely damage an individual’s reputation (by, for example, putting his name on a list of “known shoplifters”) without affording process.”
        Seems pretty straight forward and well written in case law.

      • Steve,

        You’ve obviously formed your opinion on what the first few links that came up under whatever it is you typed into your google search, you will need to do much more reading to form an informed opinion on this matter. Start with the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers, and many many more documents that deal with freedom and liberty from tyrannical governments including the Alaska Constitution.

        If you want to take a shortcut, just listen to the person you are alone in defending when she said “there are some legitimate concerns about due process that have been raised…I share those concerns. I think that we need to make sure that we don’t have a system where people can be accused of anything without the opportunity to address them.” Even she knows she done wrong.

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