I was born on March 14, 1946 in Iola, Illinois, a whistle-stop town in southern Illinois of approximately 300 persons. My Father was a Tenant Farmer/Truck Driver/Construction Laborer, and my Mother, a School Teacher. I remember in my youth one-room country schools, and hitching posts before the general store.
After graduating from a public high school of 200 students in Braidwood, Illinois, a small rural town of 2000 residents 60 miles south of Chicago, I attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a scholarship and received in 1968, two Bachelor of Science degrees: one in Industrial Management from the MIT Alfred P. Sloan School of Business, and one in Electrical Engineering. In 1972 I was awarded a Juris Doctor from the Harvard Law School. At both MIT and Harvard I was in the top 20% of my class.
In 1972 I traveled to Alaska to clerk in Juneau for the Alaska Supreme Court (Justice Robert Boochever—who was subsequently appointed a Judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit), and worked for two and one-half years as a Trial Lawyer/Appellate Attorney with the Alaska Public Defender Agency, in Anchorage.
I have two children: Ana Cristina Weidner (born 1971), a trial lawyer and member of the Alaska Bar and American Association of Justice, (formerly American Trial Lawyers Association), and Phillip Robyn Thor Weidner (born 1977), a doctor pursuing a career in anesthesiology, and I am now blessed with two grandchildren.
I have been in private practice with my own law firm since 1976, specializing in Trial and Appellate Work as a Criminal Defense Attorney in the State of Alaska and Federal Court(s), in major criminal matters, and as a Plaintiff’s Trial Lawyer on behalf of individuals in catastrophic injury and/or death cases. There are 3 other Trial Lawyers in my firm, Anna Cristina Weidner Tafs, Michael Cohn, and Lisa Rosano. There is also a support staff of secretaries, paralegals, and investigators.
I have never worked as a prosecutor in criminal matters, nor accepted money from insurance companies or large corporations.
I have been selected for listing in the National Directory of Criminal Defense Attorneys, and Best Lawyers in America, Super Lawyers and have an AV rating in Martindale Hubbell.
In addition to American Association of Justice (formerly ATLA), I am and/or have been a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association, and Alaska Academy of Trial Lawyers.
I am and have been a member of the AAJ (formerly ATLA) Board of Governors for over 20 years, as well as a Stalwart Member for many years, also serving as an officer and/or member of the Board of Governors of the Alaska Academy of Trial Lawyers. I and my Firm are members of the AAJ Leaders Forum.
I have assisted in instructing trial practice at the University of Oregon Law School in Eugene, Oregon, and at the Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at the National College of Criminal Defense Attorneys in Macon, Georgia. I have also provided numerous presentations/seminars at CLE programs conducted by the Alaska Academy of Trial Lawyers and/or American Association of Justice as to trial lawyer techniques, ethics, and relationships with the Judiciary.
I am admitted to practice in Alaska and California. I am a member of State Bars for Alaska and California, and admitted to practice before United States District Court(s) for Alaska and California, the Ninth and Second Circuit Court(s) of Appeals, the U.S.A.F. Military Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.
I have tried numerous cases to jury verdict in both the criminal and civil arenas, including acquittals and/or dismissals in murder cases and serious State and Federal Court criminal cases, and have obtained numerous plaintiff’s verdicts and/or settlements for sums in excess of $1,000,000 and/or in multiples of $1,000,000 in products liability, aviation, construction accidents, wrongful death, medical malpractice, and toxic tort matters, and some in excess of $7,000,000 to $10,000,000.
As a part of the Exxon Valdez 1989 Grounding in Prince William Sound Oil Spill Litigation, on behalf of two Fish Processors, I obtained a recovery for tens of $1,000,000’s in compensatory damages.
Some of the products liability cases and/or anti-trust litigation, and/or other cases, included litigating under the Hague Convention against Swedish, German, and Japanese defendants, (with discovery in Sweden, Germany, and Japan), and against major gun manufacturers. (The Defendants included Trelleborg, Dahlmag, E.I. DuPont, Remington, Mossberg and Cessna). I have also assisted in significant estate related litigation in Germany, including claims that relate back hundreds of years, under the ancient Fideikommis Laws. I have obtained recoveries in multiple millions of dollars from the Federal Government in Federal Tort Claim cases, as well as millions of dollars of recovery in medical malpractice and civil rights cases.
I and my firm have successfully represented numerous individual Plaintiffs and/or Estates in Aviation/Air Crash litigation, including matters involving products liability against Cessna. This includes litigation arising from crashes of commercial aircraft flying from major airports, as well as “Alaska Bush” carriers. The cases are numerous, and the most noteworthy representation was in the Alaska Airlines litigation arising from the crash of an McDonnell Douglas MD-83, Flight 261 off Point Mugu, California, returning to the U.S. from Mexico, [(loss of jack screw function in horizontal stabilizer) Hague Convention and Admiralty Litigation], the Penn Air/Cessna litigation arising from the crash of a Cessna caravan on takeoff in Dillingham, Alaska, and Products Liability litigation as to a defective throttle/firewall connection on a Cessna 206 flying from Lake Hood in Anchorage, Alaska, on a sightseeing trip to Mt. Denali.
Some of the matters I have litigated and/or tried on behalf of Plaintiffs and Estates involve Maritime and Admiralty jurisdiction and law. The Point Mugu crash case involved same, as well as a recent wrongful death action we tried and settled mid-trial, in Kenai, Alaska, arising from a fatal scuba diving incident in the Pacific Ocean near Seward, Alaska. I also have successfully prosecuted not only Medical Malpractice Cases, but cases involving defective medical products.
My most well known criminal defense trial achievement was obtaining acquittal of John Kenneth Peel for eight counts of first degree murder and one count of arson after two trials—the first consuming eight months (in Ketchikan, Alaska, approximately 1,000 miles from my office in Anchorage, Alaska) with a hung jury, and the second consuming five months in Juneau, Alaska (approximately 900 miles from my office in Anchorage). We obtained an acquittal on all counts in the second jury trial (in Juneau) by resting at the close of the government’s case, relying on cross-examination, with no defense witnesses.
The result in the Peel case has been widely reported as the only known instance in American jurisprudence of a Trial Lawyer obtaining jury acquittal of a Criminal Defendant charged with mass murder.
After the verdict I pursued a civil rights/malicious prosecution claim for Mr. Peel and his family against the State of Alaska in Federal Court, and we obtained a settlement of $1,000,000.
As noted, I have tried numerous criminal matters involving allegations of homicide and have obtained, in certain instances, acquittals and/or compromised verdicts on substantially lesser charges.
I have also successfully defended military personnel in Courts Marshall proceedings before Military Juries as to charges brought by the U.S. Army and/or U.S. Air Force, including an acquittal for homicide, an acquittal for serious assault charges and a dismissal of all charges against a U.S. Air Force surgeon, (with successful appellate representation affirming the sitting judge’s dismissal), obtaining from the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska, a Writ of Habeas Corpus and Order freeing him with an Honorable Discharge from the Air Force, (the Air Force had refused to discharge him), which is one of the few reported instances of the civilian courts issuing a Writ of Habeas Corpus against the military. That surgeon went on to an immensely successful orthopedic practice at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, subsequently serving patients in a rural hospital in Minnesota.
In another major homicide case in which I was defense counsel, (serving as same, largely pro bono under a voluntary court appointment for reduced fees), I defended Peggy Gustafson-Barnett in U.S.A. v. Peggy Gustafson-Barnett, Case No. CR-92-01038-R-1, in the United States District Court for the District of Alaska.
The Defendants therein were charged with conspiracy as to the fatal bombing of the father of a witness who had testified against Mr. Cheely and Mr. Gustafson, in a successful prosecution for first degree murder in Alaska State court that was defended by other counsel. In the subsequent bombing, via a mail bomb with plastic explosives, wherein the witness was a target, the witness’ father, was inadvertently killed and his stepmother maimed. There were allegations that my client, Ms. Gustafson-Barnett, had mailed the fatal bomb at the direction of her brother, Mr. Gustafson, who was a defendant in the State murder prosecution.
All of the defendants in the Federal Court matter faced the death penalty, under the old Federal Death Penalty Statute.
Working with co-counsel, we obtained a ruling from the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska that said death penalty statute was unconstitutional, and could not be applied, and I then proceeded to reach a Rule 11 resolution on behalf of Ms. Gustafson, where she received substantial time to serve, but significantly less time than she was facing if convicted at trial, and she will soon be released on parole.
One particularly satisfying acquittal was on behalf of my father, Phillip Marion Weidner, who was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Chicago) in 1975 for dealing in firearms without a license. Although there was a 98% conviction rate in the Federal District Court at that time, we obtained an acquittal on all counts by a jury after 20 minutes of deliberation.
There have also been many noteworthy successes at the appellate level in the Alaska Supreme Court and/or Alaska Court of Appeals, including: (1) at the start of my career, the landmark case involving the right to counsel of one’s choice (McKinnon v. State, 526 P.2d 18 (Alaska 1974)); (2) due process rights of trial counsel facing court sanctions for zealous advocacy (Weidner v. State, 764 P.2d 717 (Alaska App. 1988) and Weidner v. Superior Court, Third Judicial District, 715 P.2d 264 (Alaska App. 1986)); (3) the right to the psychotherapist-patient privilege (Allred v. State, 554 P.2d 411 (Alaska 1976)); and (4) more recently, the rights of injured plaintiffs to sue the State of Alaska notwithstanding claims of sovereign immunity (State of Alaska v. Sanders, 944 P.2d 453 (Alaska 1997) and Guerrero v. Alaska Housing Finance Corp., 6 P.3d 250 (Alaska 2000)), Guerrero ex rel. Guerrero, 123 P.3d 966 (Alaska 2005); and (5) the rights to seek civil relief against a company for the job site death of a worker Estate of Milos v. Quality Asphalt Paving, Inc., 145 P.3d 533 (Alaska 2006), as well as others.
I was class counsel for over 5,000 fishermen in Alakayak, et al. v. All Alaskan Seafoods, Inc., et al., in the Superior Court for the State of Alaska, and before the Alaska Supreme Court, a price-fixing action concerning antitrust violations of processors, (including multi-national Japanese defendants), who victimized fishermen in the Bristol Bay red salmon fishery. That case also involved Hague Convention litigation and discovery in Japan. We recovered well over $40 Million Dollars.
I am a strong supporter of the U.S. and Alaska constitutions, and have done many civil rights cases, and I am actively still pursuing same including currently, case(s) against the State of Alaska and Homer Police Department for the tragic wounding and permanent brain injury and maiming of a baby in a shootout.
I am an avid supporter of the Bill of Rights, and especially the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th amendments and the sister provisions of the Alaska Constitution.
In addition to my professional activities, I have been blessed throughout my time in Alaska with the opportunity to engage in many outdoor activities, including: (1) building two large post and beam/log homes [one in my mountainside residence overlooking Cook Inlet outside of Anchorage and one on my Homestead on the Big Susitna River with a view of Mt. Denali] and a similar home overlooking Kachemak Bay in Seldovia Alaska, and (2) skiing, snow shoeing, river running, recreational shooting, hunting, fishing, and raising sled dogs and Chesapeake Bay retrievers. I struggle at efforts to write poetry with an emphasis on Sonnets and am working on self-publishing a 3 volume work.
I still operate (from a distance) the old family farm on “Dismal Creek” outside of Iola in Clay County, i.e., I am at heart a hay and cattle farmer from southern Illinois.
I maintain the historic Denali Fairview Inn Saloon, Dance Hall, and Den of Inequity in Talkeetna Alaska (gateway to Mt. Denali) (www.denali-fairview.com). I have practiced law in California and Alaska for over 40 years; that is, since the fall of 1972.
Fellow members of the Trial Bar are welcome to sample the joys and solitude of Alaska and Illinois at those destinations.