Lawsuit seeks to force Knowles to appeal Katie John case

Posted: Friday, September 14, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A lawsuit was filed in Superior Court Thursday asking a judge to order Gov. Tony Knowles to appeal the Katie John subsistence lawsuit to the nation's highest court.

The suit, filed by the Alaska Constitutional Legal Defense Conservation Fund, says Knowles violated his legal obligations as public trustee for the fish, wildlife and water resources of Alaska when he decided not to appeal the case any further.

The suit says that means urban residents of Alaska, as defined under federal law, will lose the right of common use of the fish, wildlife and water as guaranteed by the state constitution.

The suit seeks an injunction ordering Knowles to file a notice of appeal of the Katie John case by Oct. 4, meeting a Supreme Court deadline. Failing that, the plaintiffs want to be permitted to act as private attorney general to file the appeal. Knowles and the state are named as defendants.

The case involves a fairly novel doctrine based on the state constitution, according to lawyer Robert C. Erwin, who filed the lawsuit.

''In Alaska, the governor has two specific hats,'' said Erwin. ''He's the trustee for the public good. As trustee, he has a duty toward everyone to protect the common good under the Alaska constitution. No other state constitution has that.''

Dale Bondurant of Soldotna and Warren Olson of Anchorage, officers of the fund, are also named as plaintiffs.

Bondurant was involved in the McDowell case, the lawsuit in which the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that the state constitution mandates equal access for all Alaskans to fish and game. That decision put the state law in conflict with the federal law mandating a rural preference for subsistence.

But the Katie John case involves only the question of whether streams passing through federal lands are under state or federal jurisdiction.

''Even winning that case would have returned only a small portion of federal fish and game management to state hands,'' Knowles said last month when he announced his decision not to continue the Katie John appeal.

Knowles spokesman Bob King said Thursday that the governor was confident he had made the right decision for the people of Alaska in halting the legal effort.

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