In a decision announced this week, Judge Richard Savell ruled the jury did not err in its 2000 decision that awarded Johnson almost $200,000, but that the Tok District Court did not have jurisdiction to award that much money.
Haber had received funding from the agency Friends of Animals. Counting attorney fees and interest, Savell's decision will amount to Friends of Animals, paying about $100,000, said Zane Wilson, the attorney representing Johnson's claim.
Johnson died in June and the money will be awarded to his estate, Wilson said.
"It was rather tragic that Eugene did not live past this litigation," he said. "Certainly Eugene felt that he had done the right thing and he felt really proud that he had done something about this situation."
Wilson said Savell's ruling also holds Haber individually liable for about $79,000 in damages, but that he essentially must choose between taking that amount or the higher figure Friends of Animals is ordered to pay.
"I can't collect from both of them," he said.
Johnson, an Alaska Native who lived a subsistence lifestyle, first filed a lawsuit in March 1998, a year after Haber released a 2-year-old black wolf that was caught in one of Johnson's traps near the Yukon-Charley National Preserve.
Haber contended the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner had given him permission to release the wolf, and that the wolf was illegally captured.
"My basic position hasn't changed from day one: I released an illegally caught wolf," he said during a phone interview Friday.
Haber said he had not read Savell's decision. The wolf he released by cutting the cable snare with a Leatherman tool still had wire from the trap lodged in its foot and died about three weeks later.
"My biggest regret was and still is that I didn't carry a bigger pair of wire cutters to cut the remnant pieces of wire so the wolf didn't die," he said.
Haber's actions came under scrutiny after he distributed a video tape showing the wolf's release. He said the video was meant to draw attention to abusive trapping techniques.
Dave Kellyhouse, a Tok resident and Fish and Game's former director of wildlife conservation, said the Tok community views Savell's decision as a victory.
"We're delighted in Tok. It's about time someone stood up to these people," said Kellyhouse, who testified during Johnson's initial trial.
Haber said he doesn't know whether he or Friends of Animals will appeal the decision.
Reporter Dan Rice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 459-7503.
Saturday, September 07, 2002