Thursday

Very Sad...

Bill Bryson, one of the most renowned criminal defense lawyers in Alaska, is dead. He was a great instructor, a talented lawyer and charming colleague. I taught with Bill at the National Criminal Defense College (and ate lots of the home smoked salmon and halibut he brought every year to the faculty meetings) and like many many others will miss him.


Bill Bryson

From the article in the Anchorage Daily News

One of the state's best known criminal defense attorneys is dead by his own hand.

Bill Bryson, 58, was found by friends about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at his West 15th Avenue home, police said. State Medical Examiner Franc Fallico said he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Although Bryson had financial and personal troubles over the years, friends said they knew of no precipitating cause for his suicide. An elegant, even flamboyant figure on the legal scene, Bryson was widely valued as a trial attorney and as a teacher of young lawyers here and nationally. At the time of his death, he was on the city Parks and Recreation Commission and was passionately committed to building a track-and-field facility for kids in Mountain View, said attorney and longtime friend Nancy Shaw.

Bryson was among a group of young law school graduates who came to Alaska in the early 1970s and stayed to make names for themselves. He arrived in 1972 with a brand new degree from Boalt Hall, the law school at the University of California Berkeley, to work in Juneau for Alaska Supreme Court Justice Robert Boochever. His colleagues that year included other future stars: Anchorage defense attorney Phil Weidner, former Superior Court Judge Doug Serdahely and former U.S. Attorney Mike Spaan.

Bryson had a seat at the defense table for many high-profile cases over the past 30 years, representing some of Alaska's more notorious criminal defendants, including as local counsel for Neil Mackay, acquitted of killing Alaska Airlines pilot Robert Pfeil; as co-counsel for Andrew Nelson, convicted of killing former girlfriend Sandra Pogany; and as trial lawyer for Scott Walker, convicted of kidnapping pioneer Mildred Walatka but acquitted of killing her. He did even more work behind the scenes, negotiating deals for clients who had nothing to gain by taking their case to a jury.

For many years he was on the board of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and usually spent a couple of weeks a year teaching at association workshops back East, Weidner said. Colleagues in the defense bar regularly called on him for help with cases ---- "whenever we had a situation one of us hadn't faced before," said attorney Rex Butler. "He had faced them all."

Bryson was witty and upbeat with a reverberant voice an actor would envy. His friends plan to remember him the way he would want to be remembered, with a big party on Jan. 27, at 7 p.m. at Josephine's restaurant.

3 comments:

dtarrell said...

David- I'm a P.D. from Omaha and I met you a couple years ago at NCDC, at the same time I met Bill. I heard about Bill's death today through a list serve message for trial lawyer's college, subtitled "We need to take care of each other."
Bill was someone who stood out, not only for his height, booming voice and silver beard, but for the genuine way he talked to and appeared to geniunely care about people.
When I went to TLC this summer, I asked the three Alaska lawyers about him and all three knew him as he was undoubtedly a legend in Alaska for his ability and for his willingness to help out everyone who was "on our team."

Bill left quite an impression with me and he seemed like the last person who would take his own life. Something a former teacher told me stands out when I think of Bill's death: My teacher said the irony of life is that the greater your capacity to feel joy, the greater your capacity to feel pain. Bill's life looked like a Hemingway-like adventure from a distance, but he was undoubtedly dealing with a lot of financial pain, hopefully, along with the joy. How sad that a guy who spent his life honorably fighting against government oppression died while hounded by the IRS. I'm sorry for him, his family, for Don Fiedler and for other NCDC faculty like yourself. What an amazing life and mission, but what a sad ending.

David Tarrell
Omaha, NE

Anonymous said...

Bill was one of my dearest friends- I met him initially when he taught at NCDC, and then he and I became close as we both attended NACDL meetings. He was a magnificent man-creative, intelligent, an avid defender-he had a passion for life and love and beauty-he was unique and will be missed.

Sue Williams said...

As his paralegal, and friend of 16 years and partner of one of his running buddies for the same amount of time, having moved out of Alaska, the notice of Bill's demise is still fresh. Such a kind gentle soul with amazing talents. I wish he had found his soul mate over the years though he told me I'd probably find fault with him dating Margaret Thatcher after a comment about his love for Blondes. His style was so unique that during the Federal "dovavan's" arson trial two on-lookers accused him of being a professional "outside" lawyer. I was happy to correct them. He was uniquely "ours",with a heart to match. Formerly of Anchorage, Alaska Sue Williams