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Alaska has just lost two legal champions

  • Author: John Havelock
    | Opinion
  • Updated: May 11, 2018
  • Published May 11, 2018

The Alaska Supreme Court on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. (Bill Roth / ADN)

It's been a hard couple of weeks to lose two friends, men who were not only my friends but also friends and champions of the state of Alaska. First, it was George Hayes and later Avrum (Av) Gross.

George was my boss in the early sixties, though I met him first as the Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice. We had just become a state and George's responsibilities included setting up district attorney's offices in the major towns of the state. John Rader was the attorney general.

The constitutional fathers were damn smart on this one. Locally elected DAs are a curse on the justice system. Elected, they bend to the will of the local social and economic elites. Ours in Alaska have always been above politics. George went on to take over the responsibilities of the Anchorage DA as the deputy attorney general's responsibilities, one criminal and one civil, were consolidated into a job I held.

George later came back as attorney general and was my boss. What a great boss he was, as well as a skilled manager of state policy in the building oil era. Among other responsibilities, George had to deal with the state responses in addressing the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964. Later, George went on to serve as a partner at Delaney, Wiles, Moore and Hayes, where his skills in civil litigation were legendary. As George reached retirement, he developed a chronic disease and took himself to Seattle for treatment, living a relatively lonely life there.

Dear Avrum came to work for the state when I was holding the job of attorney general myself and worked first on the legal aspects of fisheries policy. While engaging in this work, he became a close friend of Jay Hammond, Clem Tillion and other legislators working on fisheries issues. Av and I also developed a warm relationship. What first comes to mind about Av is the humorous incidents in our relationship, such as his then-spouse Sheri and kids arriving on my doorstep in the middle of the night. Their home, in his absence, had been hit by an avalanche. Going to their home the next day, it was a unique experience to see their grand piano — and everything else — coated with a thick, tough layer of ice.

Av was gifted with a remarkable level of intellect and was a talented guitar player. He stayed on in Juneau after I left and became attorney general to Jay Hammond. He took the early version of the Permanent Fund Dividend, which had accelerated benefits for residential longevity, to the Alaska Supreme Court, where he won. The case went on to the Supreme Court of the United States, where he lost. Longevity benefits were out.

Later, he represented the state in defending the election of Jay Hammond in a contest with Wally Hickel. The issues were close, and Hickel was represented in the Supreme Court of Alaska by Edgar Paul Boyko. I had just persuaded Art Snowden, the Chief Administrator of Courts, to let me bring cameras into the courts and the first use was coverage of their argument with commentary.

Av was his super-skilled self, a craftsman of legal argument. Boyko was the cunning street fighter, a skill he was well known for. It was a classic scene. Av won. In many other cases, Av represented the state well in appellate courts.

Like George, Av was burdened by a chronic condition. He was subject to migraine torture on a regular basis. He used marijuana at home in those early days when he got hit. It works, to a point. I was visiting with him once and his pain was so intense that there was no blaming him.

George had no family, which was hard on him. Av raised a family of accomplished children and had two outstanding wives who survive him. Both these men were of great service to the state and should be honored by their colleagues of the bar and the general public.

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