Judge tosses felony charges against former fish board nominee
Three months after a U.S. appeals court sided with a group of Cook Inlet drift fishermen contesting the delegation of most salmon management from federal officials to the State of Alaska, the former leader of that group had a dozen felony charges dismissed related to allegations of illegally receiving Permanent Fund Dividends.
Alaska Superior Court First District Judge Louis Menendez dismissed most of the charges against former United Cook Inlet Drift Association Executive Director Roland Maw on Jan. 3, capping a fisheries politics fiasco stretching back to Gov. Bill Walker’s first days in office in early 2015 that included the ousting of former Board of Fisheries chairman Karl Johnstone, a chaotic confirmation cycle to replace him and the resignation of Walker's Boards and Commissions Director Karen Gillis.
Maw said the ordeal has not only drained him financially but left a sour taste in his mouth about his treatment from the State of Alaska, which he said was unfair and has resulted in damage to his reputation.
“I’m a little cranked,” he said. “You’re darned right I am.”
On Jan. 13, 2016, the State of Alaska hit Maw with 12 felony charges and five misdemeanors for claiming Alaska residency to obtain Permanent Fund Dividends and resident rates for hunting and fishing permits while claiming residency for similar licenses in Montana.
The State of Montana filed similar charges against Maw in March 2015, less than a month after he withdrew his name from confirmation for the Board of Fisheries, and he pled no contest to those charges in May of that year.
Yet on Jan. 3, the Alaska Superior Court threw out Maw’s felony indictments by the State of Alaska. The prosecution by Lisa Kelley didn’t properly present the hearsay evidence to the grand jury, according to the ruling.
“A plain and simple reading of the law is that the reasons for presenting hearsay evidence shall be stated on the record at the grand jury, and not at some later point in time,” the ruling reads. “That did not happen in this case and the near entirety of the evidence heard by the jury did not comply with Alaska law.”
According to the ruling, the state did not authenticate the records until nine months after they were presented to the grand jury.
The ruling goes further, saying Maw couldn’t have gotten a fair trial as a result.
“The issue is whether or not the exhibits were properly presented to the grand jury,” it reads. “The court finds that they were not and indictment should be dismissed because of the prejudice suffered by Mr. Maw as a result.”
However, the state has not dropped five misdemeanor charges of unsworn falsification in second degree. The prosecution for these charges will continue as planned.
Maw said he hopes those charges may go away in light of the ruling, though, as the Superior Court ruling finds all the admissible evidence insufficient to support the felony indictments.
“Even if the court were so to find the remaining evidence is sufficient to support the indictment, the probative force of the admissible evidence is so weak and the unfair prejudice to Mr. Maw is so strong that it appears very likely that the improper evidence was a factor in the grand jury’s decision to indict,” according to Menedez’s ruling.
The state now has three options regarding Maw’s felony indictments. Prosecutors can choose not to file the charges again, try to get a new grand jury indictment or pursue a plea agreement with the ongoing misdemeanor charges.
Maw said he hasn’t heard anything from the state regarding its intent, and Kelley said the state has not plotted a course of action yet.
The now-dismissed indictment is tangled in a political situation at the beginning of the 2015 Legislative session.
Although Walker had already nominated Sam Cotten for the position, Maw also applied for the job of Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner. Under state law, the Board of Fisheries must interview and forward a list of qualified commissioner candidates from which the governor may choose.
The board, then chaired by Karl Johnstone, unanimously deemed Maw unqualified to be interviewed for the job.
In response to criticism of the board action by UCIDA and then-House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, Walker chastised the Board of Fisheries and told Johnstone he wouldn’t be reappointed with his term about to expire June 30, 2015.
Johnstone resigned on Jan. 14, and Walker appointed Maw to replace him on the board on Jan. 20, 2015.
Maw dropped out of consideration soon after on Feb. 20, 2015, shortly before the investigation in Montana became public knowledge.
Walker’s next choice, Kenai-area habitat advocate Robert Ruffner, was torpedoed in the Legislature by a 29-30 vote after sportfishing groups organized against him. Walker then appointed Bob Mumford, who later resigned after only a year on the board rather than seek confirmation for the seat.
In 2016, Walker then chose not to reappoint Fritz Johnson of Dillingham, and chairman Tom Kluberton announced he was not interested in another three-year term on the board, citing the political burnout from the contentious job.
That created three openings for the board, and all three of Walker’s choices, including a second shot for Ruffner, were unanimously approved by the Legislature.
Maw said he never wanted the situation to play out as it did, and has no further plans to seek any board position.
“I’ve scratched that itch,” he said.
DJ Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.