He was prosecuted for illegally shooting wolves from the air outside a state-prescribed area in 2004, but that guilty verdict hasn’t slowed David Haeg’s fight against the Alaska court system.
Haeg alleges parties to the 2004 case conspired to make an example out of him. He claims three hired attorneys worked together to botch his plea agreement and the case’s presiding judges are ignoring Alaska statutes. Progress has been stagnant over the years, but recent court hearings and an investigation by the Alaska Commission of Judicial Conduct have given new life to the once-prominent hunting guide’s pursuit.
The predator-control program approved by the Alaska Board of Game in 2003 was still in its infancy when Haeg and Tony Zellers applied for and were granted a permit allowing them to kill wolves in an area near McGrath, Game Management Unit 19D.
Haeg originally was charged with violating the terms of his aerial wolf-control permit for shooting nine wolves 20 to 30 miles outside the unit. He alleges personnel at the Board of Game instructed him to do what was necessary for the sake of the new program.
“When I was prosecuted for doing exactly what I’d been told to do, I went to my attorneys and said they told me to do this,” Haeg said.
Haeg claims Brent Cole, who specializes in pre-bargaining wildlife cases, informed him that he couldn’t make the argument that he was following orders.
Those charges against Haeg unexpectedly were changed. Using statements made during a five-hour, plea-agreement interview, the state instead charged Haeg with the crime of aerial hunting to benefit his guide business.
“It was then that I realized I wasn’t being treated fairly,” Haeg said during an interview at his home.
Alaska State Troopers seized his Piper Super Cub plane outfitted for his game-hunting business early in the investigation. But the Federal Aviation Administration refused to transfer title of the plane to the state during Haeg’s prosecution — the plane is owned by Bush Pilot Inc. and the court judgment was against Haeg.
An oral argument on March 13 at the Kenai Courthouse centered on the plane and Haeg’s allegations of misconduct surrounding its forfeiture.
When Troopers seized the plane, Haeg said, they failed to tell him he had the right to protest and possibly get it back before a judgment was made on the case.
During the recent hearing, Kenai Judge Carl Bauman said if Haeg prevailed in his post-conviction relief, a last resort challenge to conviction, then the state would owe him the value of the seized plane.
The plane is now a “rust bucket,” Haeg said.
“I want that plane in the same condition and the money I would’ve gained using it,” he said in a packed Kenai courtroom.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Peterson attended the oral argument hearing via telephone. He said the Alaska Court of Appeals upheld the forfeiture as a valid judgment. Peterson sought additional information about the plane in order to get the FAA to recognize the property was forfeited by all owners.
“I did exactly what I would do in a similar situation,” Peterson said.
The attorney also argued specific criminal rules grant the court authority to relax procedure to administer justice. And Bush Pilot Inc. is entitled to the value of the plane if it can prove it had no knowledge of the committed crime, he said.
“Whether or not it’s ever titled (to the state) it’s not to be returned to Mr. Haeg unless your honor overturns his conviction as part of the PCR process and he is successful in a subsequent trial,” Peterson said.
“It belongs to the state and there’s no basis for misconduct.”
Haeg, who has no background in law but continually submits lengthy affidavits, rebutted with Alaska statutes. According to state law, a modification of sentence requires submission of a written order within 180 days of the original sentencing. However, the state tried to add Bush Pilot Inc. as part of the judgment five years after sentencing, he argued.
When the plane was seized, Haeg said in court, out-of-state clients were scheduled to arrive the next day for a bear-hunting excursion. Haeg says Troopers told him that he would never get his plane back.
Peterson said all Haeg had to do was request a hearing.
The former guide’s temper visibly escalated in the courtroom, yelling into the microphone placed on the table in front of him.
“I’m not a lawyer,” he exclaimed.
It’s hard for Haeg to just talk about one facet of his legal struggles — all are connected in his mind.
Search warrants used to seize the plane claim the wolves’ carcasses were located inside his guiding area.
However, upon cross-examination during the initial trial, Wildlife Enforcement Trooper Brett Gibbens, who pieced together the case, withdrew his statements about the location of the wolves.
In 2004 at Haeg’s sentencing in McGrath, Judge Margaret Murphy ruled that Haeg was not to guide for five years and reasoned it was a sufficient judgment because wolves had been killed in his guiding area.
The court ignored the evidence, Haeg said.
Another hearing is set for Monday at the Kenai Courthouse. This oral argument regarding the motion to dismiss another PCR filed by Haeg will address the ineffective counsel of a handful of Haeg’s attorneys, as well as the alleged dishonesty by Murphy and Gibbens.
Trooper Gibbens chauffeured Murphy during the trial in McGrath. The contact between the judge and the Trooper involved in the case largely has been ignored by the state. In rural locations lacking taxi services it is acceptable for law enforcement to chauffeur judges; a fact mentioned by Bauman during the March 13 hearing.
After receiving his sentence in 2004, Haeg filed a complaint against the chauffeuring. Marla Greenstein, the sole judicial investigator for Alaska, investigated the complaint.
Greenstein found a single incident of chauffeuring occurred during the trial. She concluded no perjury, a term Haeg frequently uses in his court filings and testimony, happened during the chauffeuring.
Haeg disagrees. He repeatedly testified that he doesn’t know what happened during that time, but it could include Gibbens coaching the judge for the trial.
“Judicial conduct investigator Greenstein falsified all testimony from every single witness (of the chauffeuring) to cover up for Judge Murphy’s corruption,” Haeg alleged in a January motion to disqualify Judge Bauman.
The Kenai Judge also has been thrown into the mix, as Haeg alleges the judge continued to sign affidavits to receive his salary while failing to offer prompt response to the PCRs.
By signing a December 2011 affidavit, Bauman verified there was no matter referred to him for opinion or decision that was undecided for a period of more than six months.
Haeg filed for post-conviction relief on Nov. 21, 2009, according to court records.
He also alleges Bauman made false statements in court.
Greenstein dismissed the complaint about the affidavits. She said his claims did not raise ethical issues under the Alaska Code of Judicial Conduct.
However, Judge Ben Esch, commission chair of the ACJC, has reviewed Haeg’s complaint against Bauman and has agreed to review the allegation that Bauman has continued to receive pay for more than six months after Haeg’s motion for oral argument was “ripe for decision.”
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at email@example.com.