Fisherman's Friend

Louis james Menendez represents Alaska's second-biggest industry

Published in 2009 Alaska Super Lawyers magazine

By Ned Rozell on September 1, 2009


When Louis James Menendez was growing up in Monterey, in northern California, he heard his father and grandfather using a strange, rhythmic word around the house.

They both spoke of a distant place called Naknek, where father and later son had traveled in summertime to earn money by commercial salmon-fishing in Bristol Bay. The younger Menendez would later come to know and love the same fishing village, population 680. 

Naknek is one of dozens of Alaska villages Menendez has visited during roughly three decades of practicing law in Alaska. A graduate of the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and the New York University School of Law (LLM in criminal justice), Menendez went to work in 1976 as a staff attorney at the Alaska Judicial Council, whose mission includes screening and evaluating judges. Years later, he was appointed to the council, on which he still serves.

Menendez, 60, has seen more of Alaska than most native Alaskans. In addition to living in Juneau and Anchorage, he’s spent time in Kodiak, Kotzebue, Ketchikan and Dillingham. Before entering private practice, he worked as a state prosecutor.

“The draw of the job was that I enjoyed trial work, and I liked getting out there,” he says. “I’ve traveled to many villages and communities, down the [Aleutian] chain, all over southeast Alaska, Emmonak, Naknek, Noorvik, Point Hope, Barrow.

“For one thing, it’s incredibly beautiful out there—it’s a more real Alaska than what you see in the cities. And, as a lawyer, out there you can sort of run your own ship.”

At the Menendez Law Firm in Juneau, he has made a name for himself in criminal defense and personal injury law. He represents fishing interests in Alaska’s No. 2 (after oil) industry. Menendez is known for successfully defending a client accused of fishing in closed waters, a case that helped prompt the state to switch to a more precise global-positioning system. He also was the first attorney nationwide to challenge the FBI’s bullet-lead analysis at the trial stage of a murder case. Materials from that trial helped spur the FBI to change its testing procedure.

Menendez still has a home in California, as well as his house in Juneau, but he’s no snowbird.

“I’m one of those few people who like the [Alaska] winters,” he says. “I don’t feel a need to leave in winter.” One of his favorite wintertime spots is Kotzebue, “one of the few places you can read a book by the northern lights.”

Menendez spent about a year in that town on a windy peninsula north of the Arctic Circle. He also lived in Dillingham, population about 2,500, for more than four years. Like Naknek, Dillingham is a fishing town more in tune with the rhythms of nature than with the clock on the wall. 

Menendez visited Naknek during salmon season this summer to work with fishermen. The village his father and grandfather knew will always hold a special place in his heart. “You’re a visitor to a place where seasons have a tremendous impact on what happens,” he says. “You develop a tremendous respect for Mother Nature out there. Not only can she kill you, but she provides a bounty of rewards, like fish and caribou.

“It’s also a community where everybody knows each other—people are polite and generous. When you’re out there, you find yourself listening more. And there’s an awful lot to listen to.” 

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