Alaska Supreme Court Turns Back Friend of Animals Appeal

In what will likely be the last legal maneuver in a case that started in 1997, The Fairbanks News-Daily Miner reports that the Alaska Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by Friends of Animals over a $200,000 judgment won by wolf trapper Eugene Johnson against the animal rights group.

In 1997, Johnson sued Friends of Animals and wildlife biologist Gordon Haber over the release of a wolf from a trap owed by Johnson. Haber released the wolf — which was found dead about three weeks later with wire from the trap still in its feet — while he was in Alaska doing research funded by Friends of Animals. Haber later distributed a videotape of the wolf’s release, and Johnson sued both Haber and Friends of Animals.

A jury found in Johnson’s favor and awarded him damages of $100,000 from Friends of Animals and $79,000 from Haber.

Friends of Animals appealed the verdict arguing that Haber was not acting as an agent of Friends of Animals when he released the wolf. An Alaska Superior Court judge rejected its first appeal in 2002, and the Alaska Supreme Court’s rejection of the appeal is pretty much then end of the animal rights groups options. It could appeal to the United States Supreme Court, but as the Fairbanks Daily-News Miner noted, given that there are no federal issues involved such an appeal would certainly be rejected by the Supreme Court.

Johnson died in June 2002, but his estate will likely move to collect on the judgment. Due to another ruling in the case, Johnson’s estate will likely only be able to collect the judgment from the Friends of Animals which Johnson’s attorney said would amount to $120,000 once attorney fees and interest are included.


Court will not consider appeal by animal rights group. Dan Rice, Fairbanks Daily-News Miner, April 30, 2003.

Alaska Judge Upholds Judgment Against Friends of Animals, Lowers Award

An Alaskan Superior Court judge this week upheld a judgment by a Tok, Alaska jury that held biologist Gordon Haber and Friends of Animals liable for the release of a black wolf from a trap in 1997.

Haber released the wolf from a trap owned by Eugene Johnson; the wolf died several weeks later from injuries related to wire that Haber did not remove from the animal before releasing it.

At the time Haber released the animal, he was conducting research paid for by Friends of Animals. After Haber began distributing a videotape of the wolf’s release, Johnson sued both him and Friends of Animals claiming that the release violated Alaska state law.

In 2000, a jury agreed, awarding Johnson $40,000 in damages from Haber and $150,000 from Friends of Animals. They both appealed that verdict, but Superior Court Judge Richard Savell upheld the jury’s decision while at the same time agreeing that it had overstepped how much it could award in the case.

Savell reduced the award against Friends of Animals to $100,000 and holds Haber liable for about $79,000 in damages, but essentially permits Johnson’s estate (the trapper died in June 2002) to collect from only one defendant.

Neither Haber nor Friends of Animals has said whether it will appeal Savill’s ruling.


Man who freed wolf loses. Associated Press, September 8, 2002.

Trapper Awarded $150,000 In Lawsuit Against Friends of Animals

    An Alaskan trapper recent won a $150,000 judgment against Friends of Animals researcher Gordon Haber for freeing an injured wolf out of a snare.

    In 1997, biologist Haber discovered the wolf caught in a trap set by Alaskan Eugene Johnson. Haber called Alaska state wildlife officials to free the wolf arguing it had been trapped illegally since there were dead caribou carcasses in the vicinity which violates an anti-baiting statute. Officials said they’d free the animal but when they didn’t show up, Haber released the animal himself all the while creating a videotape of his actions which he later released to highlight what he believes is an “abusive type of snaring.”

    Under Alaskan law, however, the wolf was the property of Johnson the moment it came into the trap. Since prosecutor’s decided there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Johnson with illegally baiting a trap, Johnson turned around and sued Haber for compensation for the lost wolf. Haber claimed he had the permission of state wildlife officials to free the wolf, but they testified that they told him as soon as he called that the wolf was the property of the trapper under Alaskan law.

    In addition to economic damage, Johnson argued that Haber was acting along with Friends of Animals to create a sensationalized videotape and damage his reputation for fund-raising purposes.

    Although both Haber and Friends of Animals maintain that Haber is an independent research biologist who happens to receive funding from the animal rights group, the jury decided that Haber was in fact acting as an employee of Friends of Animals when he released the wolf from the trap.

    After the verdict, Haber was defiant saying, “If they think I’m going to go away licking my wounds, they’re wrong. It just makes me more determined to get out there.”

    Friends of Animals, who paid all of the legal fees for their non-employee Haber has not yet decided whether it will appeal the jury verdict.


Trapper awarded damages. Tim Mowry, Fairbanks Daily News, July 24, 2000.

Biologist undeterred by verdict in trapping case. The Associated Press, July 26, 2000.