A woman is suing long-time Anchorage attorney Peter Walton over an agreement they allegedly made more than a decade ago, in which he agreed to provide her with long-term housing in return for her companionship.
The case, filed in 2011, went to jury trial this week in Anchorage. During opening statements on Tuesday, the plaintiff's attorney argued that Walton breached a lease he had provided to plaintiff Mia Tan when his family reclaimed the property in 2008. Tan is asking upwards of $100,000 in damages. The defense argues that Tan gave up the lease years ago, and is now attempting to grab money she is not rightly owed.
Tan, now 51, and Walton, 87, entered into the agreement in 2002. Tan would be provided a lease on an apartment in downtown Anchorage for 60 years -- essentially, the rest of her life. "What she would do was have a monogamous relationship with Pete," for his remaining years, Walton's defense attorney Kenneth Jacobus said.
The two met in Homer in 1998, while he was developing land in the Southcentral town, and Tan was working at an Internet café, Jacobus said. At the time, she was 36 and he was 72. Walton, a widower, "agreed to take care of her," Jacobus said. Tan left her husband and two children to move to Anchorage to be with Walton. The defense said the relationship was private; Walton's children didn't know about it.
A year after the relationship began, Tan used Walton's money to head to South America, Jacobus said. She would spend the next decade living mostly abroad, before moving to Hawaii, where she now resides. Jacobus argued that Tan had agreed to give up the lease, and that she was now trying "to get the last ounce of blood out of Pete Walton."
Jacobus described Walton as "one of those old-time Alaskans who developed this state," a retired attorney and land developer, the father of six children. Walton suffered a stroke in early April while preparing for the trial and is paralyzed on his entire left side, leaving him unable to speak. He remains in the hospital and is unable to appear before the jury, Jacobus said.
Walton and his son, Dimitri Nikolai, are both defendants in the case, as are two corporations that Walton owned. The complaint alleges that Walton transferred the property title to his company RSN Co., and then transferred RSN Co. to his son, Nikolai. Nikolai then filed a lawsuit to terminate Tan's lease and won. Nikolai transferred the property back to Walton, who then sold it off a few years later.
The initial complaint alleges that Tan first received word that her belongings had been moved out of the apartment on L Street and 3rd Avenue in Downtown Anchorage in 2006, while she was traveling abroad. She returned to find Nikolai living there. A year later, she filed a notice of lease with the Anchorage recording district, an action that "tells the world that there's a lease on this property," Tan's attorney Brett Von Gemmingen said. She again traveled to South America, with Walton helping to pay for her travels, the complaint says.
In 2008, Walton stopped sending her money and she returned to Anchorage. She told Nikolai about the lease, but he refused to leave the apartment, so she again left the country for South America. In 2010, Tan returned to Anchorage to find that the lease had been transferred to his company.
Von Gemmingen argued that Walton breached the lease. "The defense will argue that there are some excuses" for the breach, but that it remained a violation of law nonetheless.
Von Gemmingen also argued that during the 2008 lawsuit, Nikolai had lied and said he didn't know Tan's whereabouts, when he actually had her email and mailing address. His misstatements had resulted in the default judgment and his acquisition of the property, Von Gemmingen said. Nikolai is accused of wrongfully interfering with the contract.
Tan is suing for damages in excess of $100,000, along with attorney's fees and exemplary damages. The plaintiff's attorney estimated the worth of the property in question at $900,000.
The defense painted a picture of a woman who was attempting to take advantage of Walton. "We use the term gold-digger or things like that," Jacobus said. Walton had funded Tan's travels abroad, and had given Tan the cabin in Homer that he was building when they met. She would give two-thirds of the property shares to her daughters, and would later sell her portion for $53,000, Jacobus said.
Jacobus said the 60-year property lease had been nullified when the two entered into a separate investment that turned out to be a scam. Walton and Tan each lost $35,000, Jacobus said. The pair then signed a new contract in which Tan agreed to give up the lease on the apartment. In exchange, Walton would pay her for her lost investment. He paid her back the $35,000, and the apartment was no longer hers, Jacobus said.
Nikolai's defense attorney Stanley Lewis argued that Tan has spent almost no time in Alaska since she left Anchorage in 1999. She lived in South America for seven years, and has since moved to Hawaii. Tan has also attempted to establish residence in Ecuador, buying property and marrying a man to provide her nationality, Lewis said.
She has spent only a few weeks a year in Alaska since leaving the relationship, and "yet she wants us to give her $900,000 for the loss of the apartment," Lewis said.
Lewis said he had email evidence showing that Tan gave up the apartment. Lewis believed the lease was no longer in effect given the emails and the deal made with Walton regarding the repayment of $35,000 on the bad investment.
Nikolai didn't know her whereabouts, and never knew about the lease, Lewis argued, save a few "garbled" emails from Tan. Lewis said that even if the jury found Nikolai had lied and interfered with the contract, Tan still didn't live in Anchorage, and so the damages sought should be minimal.