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September 10, 2010 6:26 PM

Rough Seas: Ex-Kirkland Lawyer Talks About Japanese Whaling Row

Posted by Brian Baxter

Depending on your worldview, Peter Bethune is either an environmental activist worthy of praise, or an eco-terrorist who should be condemned to a long prison sentence.

Daniel Harris of Seattle's Harris & Moure represents Bethune and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in a dispute that dates back to January. That's when a Japanese whaling vessel collided with Bethune's refurbished trimaran, the Ady Gil, sinking it near Antarctica. Bethune, a native New Zealander, was participating in a Sea Shepherd campaign aimed at stopping a Japanese whaling fleet from killing whales in a sanctuary in the Southern Ocean. The incident has been the subject of a season long story arc on the Animal Planet television series Whale Wars.

One of the six crew members on the Ady Gil suffered minor injuries. The Institute of Cetacean Research, a Japanese-government sponsored group that conducts the whale hunts for what it states are scientific purposes, claims the sinking of the Ady Gil was an accident. After Bethune and his crew were rescued by another Sea Shepherd vessel, they continued their campaign against the Japanese whaling fleet.

In February, Bethune made the decision to board the Shonan Maru 2 and perform a citizen's arrest of its captain and present him with a $3 million bill for the sinking of the Ady Gil. Instead, the captain and crew kept Bethune onboard and took him to Tokyo, where he was subsequently indicted and incarcerated for interfering with Japanese commerce.

Dan_Harris_300dpi

That's when Harris (pictured right) got involved. A former associate at Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago and partner at Seattle firm LeSourd & Patten, Harris founded Harris & Moure eight years ago.

Harris's firm, which he says specializes in taking on difficult international assignments in Asia that "slip through the cracks at big firms," is close to Sea Shepherd's headquarters in Friday Harbor, Wash.

We caught up with Harris to discuss his role helping Bethune, who received a suspended sentence in July.

Hello Dan. How did you get involved for Sea Shepherd in this case.

We've done a lot of their international work. And we originally got involved because we were looking at suing the [ICR] for destroying the Ady Gil. And then Pete Bethune's deal broke, so we took that on. We have three lawyers who are fluent in Japanese, and one of them, Steve Dickinson, lives and works in China. And he was commuting back and forth between China and Japan working with the Japanese lawyers.

Bethune was tried in Tokyo in late May. Did you both attend?

Yes, we both traveled to Tokyo. The trial was in Tokyo District Court, and there were pro-whaling protesters outside every day. More importantly we were the voice of Sea Shepherd to the world because nobody from the organization could go over there because they could be arrested.

And so it was the Japanese lawyers that were advising Bethune?

Yes. We were representing Sea Shepherd, which was funding Peter Bethune's defense. So we oversaw his defense and we did this by working with four Japanese lawyers. We had a criminal, maritime, and litigation lawyer, along with one law professor. They did a great job representing Bethune, but I can't even tell you their names.

I take it they would be stigmatized in Japan because of their client?

Absolutely. We have worked with a lot of Japanese law firms, and none of them would take on a case against the Japanese whaling institute, even though payment wasn't an issue. A friend of mine who is a Japanese lawyer told me, "It would be ideological suicide." [Note: Harris is referring to Japanese lawyers taking on a potential civil case against ICR.]

Does Sea Shepherd intend to sue over the sinking of the Ady Gil?

I can't say that yet, but it's unlikely any suit would be filed in the U.S. The Japanese whaling company is pretty careful to keep themselves confined to Japan.

At the start of the criminal trial, Sea Shephered announced that Bethune would no longer be part of the organization. What was behind this decision?

Pete had said he wasn't going to go on board with Sea Shepherd again, and Sea Shepherd figured that it wouldn't be a good idea for him to come back with [the organization]. So they announced he wouldn't be coming back.

Was that a strategic legal decision?

It was not necessarily thought out for that reason, but it absolutely did help in what Pete's lawyers were saying to the court, which is, "You don't have to worry about Pete Bethune again." Pete was never a member of Sea Shepherd and didn't get kicked out. He was a volunteer and won't be on a Sea Shepherd ship again.

What was your reaction to the suspended sentence?

I was ecstatic. It was the best result that was reasonably possible. An acquittal would have been the best result, but our goal was to get him out of jail as quickly as possible. Our hope was for a suspended sentence, but we had been told that the logistics were such that even after he got that sentence, it would take a month or two to process him out of there. But that was even speeded up and he was out within a day or two after the sentence came down, and I have to give credit to the Japanese lawyers for that.

I noticed that two Greenpeace activists received suspended sentences in Japan this week for stealing whale meat. How big an issue is this over there?

It's a huge issue. When we were over in Japan, we were interviewed on TV and radio about 15 times a day. So we're just happy to get this matter resolved and we look forward to continuing to represent Sea Shepherd.

 

All interviews are condensed and edited for grammar, style, and clarity. A special about Bethune's time in a Japanese maximum security prison is currently airing on Animal Planet. Show times can be found here.

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So please explain to me the strategy of this case here. "Please let Pete free because he is not going to return and be a nuisance for the Nipponese Whale Slaughtering Industry". Was that the full strategy? If this case had been held in US courts there would have been some serious counter accusations about the behaviour of the captain of Nisshin Maru 2, and an attempt at turning the view toward that side of the story instead most probably leading to a judgement of dismissal. But if the strategy was to bend over backwards and take the beating and hopefully, and I mean hopefully, get away with a low sentence then this can be seen as a victorious outcome. I don't get it, fold, beg forgiveness for something you didn't do and hope for a low prize to pay...

@Lindus

You completely misread our strategy. Actually, our main strategy was to argue that the whaling was illegal and that international law authorizes environmental groups to act as private coast guards to stop it. You can read the English language version of our memorandum on this here: http://bit.ly/a8Z7TZ

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