“I’ve been representing native indigenous Yup’ik in Alaska for over 20 years. Their culture is kind and welcoming; there is no ‘taking advantage’ of other people in their community, which sadly makes them prime targets for scam artists and outside interests.
Many native Alaskans supplement their subsistence living by fishing in the summer and selling those fish to groups who then resell the fish back on the mainland U.S. or in larger cities. The fishermen make a huge portion of their annual income during this fishing season and rely on that income for the winter. Unfortunately, outsiders catch wind of this and decide to try their schemes in western Alaska.
One summer, a Florida group came into the area and pushed a better deal than the local buyers. The local fishermen were attracted to the prospect of making more money than they had before, and many fell for the scam. The way it works in commercial fishing is that you’re paid at the end of the season, so it was not uncommon for people to sign contracts and then wait for payment based on their catch. This outside group took advantage of this; promised payments, and then at the end of fishing season packed up and moved back to Florida with full pockets, without paying a single fisherman.
Some native guys came to me and told me their stories, and I was just about as mad as they were. The Florida group was owned by a bunch of wealthy guys who thought they could come out to Alaska, rip off a bunch of local people, go back home with stolen money and never get caught. I wasn’t going to let that happen to people from my own community.
We opened litigation against them and to show that we meant business, flew 3,000 miles to Miami to personally meet the owners of this organization. Our efforts worked. They ended up backing down and paying the local Yup’ik fisherman the money they earned and deserved.
There are probably about half a dozen of us in the entire state fighting on behalf of consumers. We are their only line of defense. That makes the resources an organization like NCLC provides so invaluable. About 15 years ago I had a case involving something called the ‘Rooker-Feldman Doctrine,’ which I didn’t know a single thing about. I reached out to Charles Delbaum at NCLC, not expecting more than a brief consultation if that, but within a day Charles got back to me and brought me into a group conversation with Deepak Gupta and Joanne Faulker, heroes of mine. Deepak ended up taking on the case and winning in the Alaska Supreme Court. Moral of the story: community matters, both on a small scale in a place like Alaska, and on a larger scale in the field of consumer law.
Nothing is more satisfying to me than holding the bad guys accountable, and being able to be a resource to a vulnerable community. I’m busy, but ya know, as a consumer attorney these days, who isn’t? At the end of the day and in the whole of my life, pressures aside, I’m stoked. How lucky am I to have found a field of work that’s satisfying, interesting, and lasting?”