Alaska Judge a Parrot Head

strange judicial opinions volcano moves trialChanging venue because of a volcano? Sure, it sounds far-fetched, but don’t blow your stack.

It really happened in U.S. v. McDonald, a 1990 federal bribery prosecution in Alaska. Fearful that an unpredictable volcano named Mt. Redoubt would act up and disrupt the trial, Judge James M. Burns granted a motion to change venue for the trial from Fairbanks, Alaska to Tacoma, Washington.

Judge Burns noted he could find “no precedent for changing venue because of an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, flood, volcanic eruption, or other natural disaster,” but said Mt. Redoubt was “entitled to a modicum of judicial respect.”

Judge Burns might be a Jimmy Buffett fan. Usually, when you think of Buffett, you think frozen margaritas, not frozen tundra, but footnote 17 quotes the entire lyrics of the Jimmy Buffett song “Volcano,” observing that Buffett’s lyrics express feelings apropos to the circumstances of the case.

Buffett sang, “I don’t know, I don’t know where I’m a-gonna go when the volcano blow.”

Here they knew. The judge sent everyone to Tacoma.

United States v. McDonald, 740 F. Supp. 757, 764 nn.17 & 18 (D. Alaska 1990) (Burns, J.). Thanks to Tom Gaylord.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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