New Makah judge takes over tribal proceedings against whalers

Neah Bay, Washington (AP) 2-08

A new chief judge has taken over the Makah Tribe’s case against five whalers who killed a gray whale without a permit last year.

Stanley Meyers, a former Neah Bay resident who is not an American Indian, was hired after the tribe declined to renew the contract of the previous chief judge, Jean Vitalis, whose objectivity had been questioned after she publicly criticized the whale hunt. The tribe’s associate judge, Emma Doulik, recused herself, citing her strong emotions over the hunt.

The five tribal members harpooned and shot the gray whale during September, later saying they were tired of waiting for federal permission. The Makah had last killed a whale – legally – in 1999.

A federal grand jury indicted the men in October, charging them with violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Whaling Convention Act. The next month they were charged under tribal law.

The five defendants – Frankie Gonzales, Wayne Johnson, Andrew Noel, Theron Parker and William Secor Sr., all of Neah Bay – pleaded not guilty in both venues.

Meyers attended school in Neah Bay before leaving to study law. In interviews with the Makah Tribal Council, he emerged as the best candidate, Tribal Chairman Micah McCarty told the Peninsula Daily News for an article published Wednesday. McCarty said Meyers also has done legal work for the Quileute tribe in LaPush.

Attorney Jack Fiander, who will defend Johnson and Noel in the tribal proceedings, said Makah law requires a trial within 30 days of an arraignment, which in this case took place in December. He plans to ask the judge to dismiss the charges for failure to meet that speedy trial deadline.

McCarty said a pretrial conference and trial date will be scheduled as soon as Meyers settles into his new job.

If convicted on all tribal charges, the defendants could be sentenced to a year in the Neah Bay jail, $5,000 fines and suspension of their treaty rights.

A U.S. magistrate judge in Tacoma dismissed charges brought against the men under the Whaling Convention Act, saying the law’s language on criminal violations is too vague to apply. The whalers are still charged with violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and trial is scheduled for April. If found guilty, they could face up to a year in prison.