If the case goes to federal court, an eventual jury trial to fault and damages over the Lone Star would be in Anchorage, not Dillingham.
Two of the defendants sued by Manokotak fishermen after the sunken tender Lone Star ruined their season are attempting to have the case moved out of 3rd Judicial District Court. KDLG's Dave Bendinger has more:
Attorneys for Trident Seafoods and the Resolve Marine Group filed removal notices this week that would transfer jurisdiction in the case from the superior court in Dillingham to the federal court system in Anchorage.
"We filed in state court, which is where the incident happened, in the area of the Dillingham court," said Myron Angstman, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.
"The reason we filed there is not only because it happened there, but we want the local folks to decide who was at fault and what if anything should be paid for that. In our view they have a better feel of what fishing really means in Bristol Bay."
The roughly 20 plaintiffs are mostly fishermen from Manokotak whose setnet fishing season at Igushik Beach was lost after the Lone Star sank at the end of June. The named defendants are Trident Seafoods, the Lone Star’s owner, captain, and crew, as well as the two companies involved in the salvage of the vessel.
Most of the fishermen had their nets in the water for little more than a week, and missed the peak of the Igushik River’s sockeye run. They say they were never compensated for their losses.
Angstman says the defendants have the right to request that the lawsuit be handled under federal jurisdiction. But it would probably not be in the interest of his clients if the federal court agrees to take the case.
"That would mean it would be an Anchorage trial, and Anchorage people would be deciding who is at fault and what amount of money should be paid for damages," he said.
An Anchorage trial could also be a costly proposition for the Manokotak residents.
"Virtually all of the plaintiffs in this case are going to be residents of rural Alaska. Our folks are going to have to prepare for an expensive ordeal to have this case litigated."
Angstman says they will ask to have the case brought back to Dillingham, but that the plaintiffs will be ready for the case in either location.
The case is in a state of "flux" right now, according to Angstman, based on rumors that the defendants are pressuring the village residents to drop the lawsuit.
"We hear they're telling folks, 'if you hire a lawyer, we're not going to pay you any money, but if you don't hire a lawyer, we may pay you some money'. That's caused a number of people to either decide to get out of the case, or to not get into the case."
Angstman chose not to comment as to whether those tactics are legal or ethical. But to his knowledge, no Igushik fishermen have been paid for their lost season.
"We have a lot of concern about anyone getting paid without a lawsuit, at least paid a satisfactory amount," said Angstman.
The plaintiffs have not yet specified what amount of damages they are seeking to make good on the lost season.