WC wasn’t going to write about Barry Jackson, who died July 31 after a long struggle with cancer, dementia and other illnesses. At least in the final years of his legal practice, he caused a lot of harm to a lot of people. But after reading Dermot Cole’s article on Jackson, WC feels compelled to provide a differing view.
Barry Jackson always claimed that the use of for-profit corporations in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 was his idea. When WC was in law school, he wrote a long paper on the legislative history of ANCSA. Research for that paper included reading the minutes of every hearing on that bill and the bills that came before. Many historians trace the idea of corporations as the ownership vehicle for Alaska Native lands and funds to a paper written by an undergraduate Willie Hensley at the University of Alaska.1 That was WC’s conclusion.
The Italian diplomat and son-in-law of Mussolini, Count Galeazzo Ciano (1903-1944), in the The Ciano Diaries, 1939-1943, Vol. 2, noted, “Success has many fathers; failure is always an orphan.” To the extent that Native corporations are a success, perhaps Count Ciano was right.2
Jackson was obsessed with his failure to achieve credit and compensation for his work on ANCSA. WC will leave the credit issue to historians. In 1977, he litigated his claim to compensation, losing badly:
The district court has no jurisdiction to enforce the attorney-client contracts out of the Alaska Native Fund because no federal question is presented by their claim. Enforcement of those contracts is barred by Section 1619(f) of the Act, which makes such agreements void. Plaintiffs’ efforts to obtain through this Court additional compensation directly under the Act itself fails because they have not complied with the provisions of that statute which prescribed the time within which such claims must have been filed, and which limits jurisdiction over them to the Court of Claims.
One of the ironies of Jackson’s claim he was wrongfully denied compensation for his ANCSA work is that he did, in fact, receive compensation under ANCSA, just not as much as he thought he deserved. And his right to more compensation was cut off by the very bill he was so proud of.
Perhaps more importantly, the last 20 years of his career Jackson worked primarily as a bankruptcy lawyer, representing debtors. And doing so very, very badly. There was a long stretch of time, in the early 1980s, when Barry Jackson would come to the then-monthly Fairbanks bankruptcy court sessions and do nothing but ask that his cases be continued. Dozens of cases, rolled forward without action. Time after time after time. It turned out he wasn’t stalling to give his clients more time to get their financial houses in order; they generally had no idea what was happening. It was because he didn’t have a clue how to advance their cases to a conclusion.
WC generally represented creditors and bankruptcy trustees. WC saw the appalling mistakes Jackson made. Asserting the wrong exemptions, for example, costing his clients tens of thousands of dollars. Or, in one case, litigating and losing a hare-brained theory that would have voided every mortgage loan in Alaska if successful, when the litigation was entirely unnecessary to his client’s case.3 It turned out that was the first case – maybe the only case – Jackson litigated to a verdict.
There was a joke in the bankruptcy bar that if you went to visit Barry Jackson with a toothache, he’d put you in a Chapter 13 until you felt better. For a respectable retainer, of course. A lot of people got plopped into bankruptcy that shouldn’t have been. A lot got put in the wrong kind of bankruptcy. Even more got abandoned there with their cases left in limbo.
WC doesn’t like to speak ill of the dead. Bog only knows what people will say at WC’s funeral. But Barry Jackson caused a lot of people a lot of unnecessary pain, a lot of unnecessary financial loss. WC respects Jackson’s Marine Corps career and efforts on behalf of Alaska Natives early on. But his other legal work? Not so much.
WC’s sympathies to his family.
R.I.P. Barry Wendell Jackson.
- For a class in constitutional law taught by the late, great Jay Rabinowitz, in fact. ↩
- This is a common theme in Alaska politics. The Alaska Permanent Fund, along with the permanent fund dividend law, had many politicians, after the fact, rush to take credit for a law Governor Jay Hammond had to force through the Alaska Legislature. ↩
- Mrs. WC attended a portion of that trial. When Bankruptcy Judge Don MacDonald suddenly recessed the case, she asked WC in the hallway, “Is the judge going to douse himself with gasoline and set himself on fire to avoid listening to any more of Jackson’s questions?” When Mrs. WC told this story to Judge MacDonald on the occasion of his retirement, Judge MacDonald responded, “Well, it wasn’t that bad.” Paused a beat and then, “Pretty close, though.” ↩
One thought on “R.I.P. Barry Jackson, 1930-2018”
Missing from the picture was “Donald Rose Wright” as I remember being one of the pioneers of the ANCSA. I remember Donald Wright was working for Burgess Construction when he first starting advancing the idea of land claims entitlement for Alaska Natives and “most people” totally dismissed his theory but he pushed ahead as the “birthing father” what what later became the ANCSA and if I remember correctly he sourced out and retaining a Washington DC lawfirm that had worked on the US lower 48 native lands claims in prior years and engaged them in the process to represent the Alaska Natives Aboriginal Land Claims. My memory has faded in time and perhaps WC can correct any of my incorrect recollections but I remember as a young man that Donald Wright almost stood alone to a chorus of nan-sayers and over time built a movement of followers that carried his (and others) dream to reality with a lot of help from many people along the way.
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