The Accidental Jurist

Leonard Peltier. Stephen Miles. Now the witness who might break the Ramsey case. Itís no wonder Lee Hill thinks he needs to pack a pistol.

As time passed, Hill found himself drawn to the Indian village. It was logging country, but the timber industry was depressed and the community was plagued by high unemployment and alcoholism. Still, the people were friendly, and he felt an affinity for the way they viewed their land as a part of themselves -- though at times they seemed to be living a paradox. Both communities took their showers outdoors and used outhouses, but in many ways, the whites at the institute were more back-to-earth than the Indians in the village. The whites milked the goats to make cheese and butter; the Indians took the ferry to the mainland and bought their groceries. At the institute, the only creature comfort was a stereo and a few classical records; there were no televisions. Over in the village, nearly every shack had a television antenna poking out of the roof. The Indians were at odds with their own culture.

Hill knew that feeling, and it was only heightened when he met an Indian named Leonard. He was in his late fifties, with long black hair that was turning gray, and was missing many of his teeth. Leonard was also the oldest of the tribe's dancers, a title that implied status as well as more spiritual power. Like many of the men on the reservation, he was an alcoholic who could often be found clutching a bottle of wine in front of his shack.

The old man terrified Hill -- in a benevolent sort of way -- by challenging him. "Okay, so you're Indian," he would say to Hill. "Why do you act like you're not?" Still, he accepted Hill, inviting him to a traditional potlatch at his home where he sang ancient songs that raised the hair on the back of the boy's neck.

The sheltering high: Hill's photo of Bowles smoking kif with his protegé, Mohammed Mrabet, in 1979.
The sheltering high: Hill's photo of Bowles smoking kif with his protegé, Mohammed Mrabet, in 1979.
Yin and yang: Ensign Lee Hill allegedly "preparing a squadron briefing" in the early '80s...
Yin and yang: Ensign Lee Hill allegedly "preparing a squadron briefing" in the early '80s...

Much of what Leonard said Hill wouldn't understand for many years. But there were other events on the island that would impact Hill's life as well. Some of the inhabitants were up in arms about the U.S. government's efforts to extradite an American Indian who was suspected of shooting two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation in South Dakota. The suspect had fled to Canada. It was the first time Hill ever heard the slogan "Free Leonard Peltier."


Hill's office is in a small, nondescript building between Foothills Parkway and 28th Avenue, where he shares a suite with several other lawyers. One of them is Julia Yoo, a small, pretty woman of Korean descent who also happens to be his girlfriend.

He works surrounded by the yin and yang of his world. On one wall, next to a "Hill for City Council" placard, is a poster of Soldier of Fortune publisher Lieutenant Colonel Robert K. Brown, wearing jungle fatigues and holding a sniper's rifle, over the slogan, "Communism Stops Here!" It's signed: "Dear Lee, Blow one away for me! Robert K. Brown."

Hill explains that the colonel, a neighbor he met when representing a Colorado militiaman, is much more liberal than his right-wing magazine would indicate. Still, Hill thinks it's funny that he's hung a poster of Soviet tyrant Josef Stalin next to Brown's. "I'm always striving for balance," he chuckles.

On the opposite walls are the obligatory framed pieces of paper proving his college education and law degree. There's also a small plaque dedicated to Ensign Lee Hill from the Blacklion fighter squadron, with the date 19MAR81-22MAR82, on which is inscribed the nickname Boot. "Anyone in a fighter squadron with the last name Hill is automatically going to get the nickname 'Boot,'" he says. Lee "Boot" Hill.

On a filing cabinet is a baseball cap with the logo "Oglala Nation." Above it is a cartoon, drawn by a friend, depicting besieged cavalry men attempting to hold off a war party of Indians on horseback, one of whom is riding double with a man dressed in a pin-striped suit and carrying a briefcase labeled "W. Lee Hill." One of the soldiers is telling the other, "I guess they mean business this time."

The telephone is rarely quiet for more than a couple of minutes. At the moment, Hill is working two phones at once, calling Steven Seagal, the actor and martial arts expert, on a cell phone to talk about several movie and television ideas they're working on together, and, from the phone on his desk, politely trying to deflect media calls regarding The Witness. He'd hoped to keep that whole thing quiet and let the Boulder police do their job -- if they would -- but word got out.

Hill complains that he doesn't "need this. I've got work that two of me couldn't get done." As if on cue, Yoo appears and needs to talk about their lawsuit against the Boulder Valley School District.

In early January, they filed suit in U.S. District Court in Denver, contending civil-rights violations on behalf of a thirteen-year-old, brain-damaged student who had been sexually assaulted two years earlier by a then-fourteen-year-old classmate at Burbank Middle School. The first assault occurred right before Christmas 1997 while the two boys and at least one other student from a special-education class were in a school counselor's office watching the PG-13 movie Anaconda, which Hill described in the federal lawsuit as "a graphic sexual and violent film in which almost all of the characters face gruesome, tortured deaths by the constrictive force of a giant phallic anaconda."

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