WC’s Epic Fails: State v. Carman and Mad Dog

Yakutat Forelands with GPS route overlay

Yakutat Forelands with GPS route overlay

Early in WC’s legal career, the superior court would appoint private attorneys to defend criminals when the Public Defender Agency had a conflict of interest. WC was appointed to represent Mike Carman in an armed robbery case back in 1977. Court-appointed counsel wasn’t given a choice. WC undertook the defense of Carman.

Carman was being held on $50,000 bail, an amount he and his family couldn’t possibly post. WC sought to have Carman’s bail reduced, asking Judge Jerry Van Hoomisen to reduce it to nominal bail or to release Carman on his own recognizance. Carman was a Fairbanks kid, had strong family connections in the community and had a squeaky clean record. At the bail hearing, WC presented evidence to support all that. The State of Alaska, in the person of District Attorney Harry “Mad Dog” Davis,1 made no effort to rebut WC’s evidence. Instead, Mad Dog asked for an in camera hearing, excluding Carman, to present “secret evidence.” Over WC’s strenuous objections,2 Judge Van conducted the secret hearing, excluding WC and Carman, and, in reliance on the secret evidence, refused to reduce bail.

WC immediately filed a petition for review to the Alaska Supreme Court.3 The petition was granted and the Alaska Supreme Court eventually reversed Judge Van, holding that secret hearings, at least secret hearings on bail, were wrong, illegal and an unconstitutional denial of the right to confront witnesses.

WC learned of the court’s decision from a phone call from Mad Dog himself. In the course of that phone call, Mad Dog admitted he knew at the time his tactic was legally dubious and said he’d “have to dream another theory” next time. WC asked him to confirm that Mad Dog had knowingly handicapped Carman’s defense – and caused WC a large amount of unnecessary work. Mad Dog told WC not to be a wimp.

In WC’s heart, WC swore revenge.

Fast forward ten years. WC had for some years been heading to Yakutat, Alaska, each spring, fly fishing for steelhead trout on the Situk River.4 To WC’s surprise and mild annoyance, Mad Dog was down there that year, also fishing for spring steelhead. At breakfast in the Yakutat Lodge the first morning, WC overheard Mad Dog complaining loudly about what a pain it was hiking along the Situk River to the good fishing spots.

And in that moment, WC conceived his revenge. WC blew off the morning fishing to establish some GPS waypoints. Readers need to understand that the Yakutat Forelands are basically a marsh. Better-drained parts are heavily forested, with a dense understory of brush and Devil’s Club. Poorly-drained areas are water meadows, much easier walking. Readers also need to understand that in those days fishing involved neoprene chest waders. What WC’s buddy, David Shaw, called “Your own, portable sweat lodge.”

At supper that evening, WC offered to take Mad Dog to his favored spot by a quicker, easier route.  Mad Dog accepted. And the next morning WC took Mad Dog on a snipe hunt.

It started out innocently, a straight line north across a big water meadow west of the Situk River; a right turn and east across another water meadow and then into the better-drained forest nearer the river. And then WC “got lost”, “couldn’t get a GPS signal,” “got lost” again, “missed a turn,” and did his level best to persuade Mad Dog we were lost. It was immense fun. Mad Dog’s glasses got steamed up, he sweat buckets, his face got red, he called WC all kinds of names, and even cursed GPS technology. Towards the end, WC attempted to show Mad Dog the “problems” with the GPS, where the track function had meticulously traced out the initials “MC”, as in “Michael Carman.” But Mad Dog didn’t want to look.

Probably just as well.

Once WC had traced out the initials, WC led Mad Dog directly to his buddies at the fishing spot. To wiithin ten feet of where they were, in fact.

A couple of years later, on a canoeing trip with some Ass’t Public Defenders, WC told his story around a campfire where we were sharing Mad Dog stories (there are a lot of them). Apparently, one of them told the story to Mad Dog. Who, WC was told, denied it had happened.5



  1. Harry Davis got his nickname because, it was claimed, during extended argument he’d develop foaming saliva at the corners of his mouth. WC never saw direct evidence, but it was an article of faith among then Public Defenders. He was also sometimes rabid about the charges he made. 
  2. WC admits he lost his temper at once point, and swore at Judge Van Hoomisen in Yu’pik, the Alaska Native language of WC’s mis-spent youth. Unfortunately, Judge Van understood a little bit of Yu’pik. WC was fined. Carman’s father offered to pay the fine, but WC coughed up the dough. 
  3. Not an appeal. An appeal is from a final judgment. The technical term is “interlocutory,” and the procedure us a petition for review. The state supreme court isn’t required to grant a petition for review, and usually doesn’t. But in this case, it did grant the petition. 
  4. For non-Alaskans: you know how Alaska has the big part to the north, and the dangly down part – southeast Alaska? And they are connected by the very skinny bit? Yakutat is at that skinny bit. 
  5. WC doesn’t want to confuse anybody. WC admires Harry Davis, who was generally a decent guy and was a good fly fisherman despite a challenging disability. WC wouldn’t have gone to that much trouble for someone he seriously disliked. 

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