Beneath the very old portraits of a very young Alaska Rep. Don Young and an equally young Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, now deceased, the Alaska Republican Party took a very odd detour into the finances of its chairman-elect on Thursday night in Anchorage. Rotund Russ Millette was at the time being queried as to his capabilities for handling the responsibilities of chairing the state's most powerful political machine. Ralph Seekins, a Republican National Committeeman from Fairbanks and a former state legislator, brought up the matter of a judgment against Millette lodged in the Anchorage Superior Court.
Nobody seemed quite sure of where Seekins was going or why, though he later said he was just trying to figure out whether Millette could afford the voluntary job as party chair, which comes with some hefty associated costs for travel and lodging. The chairman is expected to pick up those costs himself. Those expenditures, Seekins added, can easily run to more than $10,000 a year.
That's a financial bite for a man of average means, as Millette appears to be, and especially so if he's just been hit by a court judgment demanding payment of more than $50,000.
Seekins sat lined up with the State Executive Committee on seats along the wall in the small and somewhat dingy Republican Party headquarters off of Fireweed Drive as he asked his questions. Millette, in a blue shirt with a green Polo sweater-vest, was seated behind his attorney -- the always joking Wayne Anthony Ross (a.k.a "WAR") -- near the front of a small gallery of people facing the committee. Seekins asked Millette if he'd been involved in a lawsuit involving an auto accident.
"Yes," Millette said.
Seekins then asked Millette if he was aware the judge in the case had lodged a judgment against him for more than $50,000 earlier in the week. Millette said it was his understanding the judge ruled in his favor. Seekins pushed on, rather bluntly, saying he had heard otherwise and wanted to know if the story was true or just a rumor.
"I don't know if it's true or not," Millette said.
The conversation moved on from there with some in the audience left scratching their heads wondering what exactly Seekins wanted to know. The issue was never revisited. The executive committee spent a lot more time questioning Millette, then went into a private "executive session" to discuss his fate, and emerged later in the night to say Millette wasn't fit to take over the job of state GOP chairmanship because he hadn't shown any ability to fund-raise in the eight months he'd spent as party finance chair, following his election.
One committee member later explained the finance chair as something of an internship for party chair. The executive committee decided Millette had flunked party finance and thus wasn't fit to lead. But that wasn't the only bad news about finances for Millette this past week.
Hopefully he listened to Seekins' advice to check with his lawyer on that case -- Ross was quick to say it wasn't him -- because there is a judgment out there.
On Monday, according to state court records, the judgment was issued against Millette for $55,594.65 in attorney and court fees. The judgment is fallout from a trial last year in Anchorage. Millette sued another driver with whom he was involved in a fender-bender, if it was even that, in 2008. After the accident, Millette claimed to have suffered serious injuries.
One of the jurors in the case said it appeared Millette was trying to play the system to pocket some cash.
The other driver, Andrew Brewer, said Friday the judgment levied against Millette might be karma coming back to get him.
Brewer freely admitted his van hit Millette's car in 2008. Brewer said he was at fault in the accident. He said he was happy to pay to get Millette's car fixed once he figured out there'd been an accident. Here's what Brewer said happened:
He was driving a van through downtown Anchorage. He went to change lanes, signaled, looked in his right mirror, saw nothing, changed lanes, thought he felt a bump, looked in his right mirror again and saw nothing again, and kept going. The bump, he later learned, was Millette's car. Millette followed Brewer out of the downtown area while contacting police.
Police stopped Brewer on Minnesota Boulevard. Brewer was cited for leaving the scene of an accident. Millette, who'd followed Brewer until police arrived, jumped out of his car to tell Brewer his driving was bad. Brewer agreed. But he also thought he'd pay the fine, pay to fix Millette's car and be done with it.
"I should have done due diligence," he said. "I learned that if you think you bumped into something, you've got to stop."
Brewer said he apologized to Millette at the time, but later "he tried to nail me."
First, Millette filed a claim against Brewer's insurance company, and it paid about $20,000 for a year's worth of doctor and chiropractor fees before saying that was enough, Brewer said. At that point, Millette sued for more.
In court, Brewer said, evidence was introduced that Millette had made earlier disability claims. Brewer said he got the impression Millette had targeted him after the accident because he saw an easy score. "He knew what to do," Brewer said. Millette was selling advertising for the Yellow Pages at the time, Brewer said, and claimed the injuries from the auto accident had left him so debilitated he couldn't carry his phonebooks.
"I knew he wasn't hurt," Brewer said, recalling that the motorist who chased him down was a healthy, agile, older man with a "comb-over" who jumped easily out of his car. Brewer admitted to being a little worried, however, when he showed up in court four years later to see an older, bald guy "who'd put on about 40 pounds."
Now 67 years old, Millette looks his age, and though he's prone to a stern gaze, he can look vulnerable at times. All of that left Brewer a little worried about the outcome of the case. He only got more worried when Millette's attorney put members of the Millette family on the witness stand to sing a song of woes. Brewer thought the jury might buy it.
One of the jurors said it was obvious Millette was trying to take advantage of the system. After sitting through five days of trial, the jury voted to award Millette $2,751.15 in damages -- the "lowest possible" under the terms of the instructions given the jury by the judge, the juror said.
The judge later ordered Millette to pay the attorney fees and court costs for the case.
Factoring what Millette won in the case against the bill for more than $55,000 in fees, he is out $49,795.85. But the good news is Millette's injuries appear to have gotten better.
When he left the Republican headquarters Thursday, he was lugging a large case that appeared to be of considerable heft.
Millette's response to all of this was unavailable. He said Thursday he will not talk to Alaska Dispatch because of a story that included the observation that he was twiddling "his thumbs atop the blue sweater covering his ample gut." He appears to have been offended by the use of the word "gut."
Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com