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'Riot' of miner's wives led to protection for officials, which Butte lawsuit may overturn
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'Riot' of miner's wives led to protection for officials, which Butte lawsuit may overturn

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Wade Dahood

Anaconda lawyer Wade Dahood is 91 and still practicing. Dahood is one of the last remaining delegates to the Montana Constitutional Convention.

If a former Butte woman wins her case against the Montana Board of Medical Examiners, she may reverse a judicial rule that was established when miners’ wives rioted against the Anaconda Company 73 years ago.

Ciara Rehbein, who lived in Butte for about 10 years and now lives in Kalispell, alleges she developed a condition called tardive dyskinesia in 2015 because of antipsychotic drugs her then-Butte psychiatrist, Dr. Bennett Braun, gave her after a bad motorcycle accident.

As part of her suit against Braun, Rehbein is also suing the Montana Board of Medical Examiners for negligence and other charges because the board licensed Braun in 2002.

Rehbein alleges the board “should have known” about Braun’s 11 malpractice lawsuits in the 1990s for reportedly convincing women in the Midwest that they had been high priestesses in satanic cults, cannibalized thousands and sexually molested children. 

The Illinois lawsuits allege Braun brainwashed the women through hypnosis and high dosages of drugs. Braun never admitted wrongdoing and the cases were settled out of court, but a variety of prominent national media heavily reported on the patients' allegations.

Rehbein and the Montana Board of Medical Examiners went to court last month. The state’s special assistant attorney general, Quinlan O’Connor, argued in District Judge Kurt Krueger’s court last month that Krueger should dismiss the board’s part of the case, saying that the board is immune from legal action.

The Board of Medical Examiners is arguing that it cannot be sued because of a judicial rule established in 1947 by the Montana Supreme Court.

The courts created that rule in response to a lawsuit that began in Butte.

Fred Annala, Sr., a mining engineer for the Anaconda Company, lived at 2424 Locust St., according to his 1968 obituary and earlier news stories. On the night of April 14, 1946, women and teens “rioted” at several homes, including Annala’s.

They were out for vengeance against Annala and other salaried company men who were protecting Anaconda Company’s property from damage in the “strike-bound city,” according to The Montana Standard at the time of the incident.

The next day’s headline read: “Mobs Wreck Dozen Butte Homes; Orgy Uncontrolled in Wild Night of Terror, Lawlessness.”

Silver Bow County Sheriff Al McLeod reported at the time that he had had his hands full.

“The hoodlums are mostly young fellows and women,” he told the Standard the next day. In some instances, women led the house-wrecking.

Longtime Butte miner Al Beavis, 87, was a teenager in the 1940s and he remembers the strike. He said there were gunmen with rifles and there were scab workers. He didn’t participate in the mayhem, but he said that, back then, “women were tough.”

“It was a real bad strike,” Beavis said from his Butte home last month.

Beavis said miners' wages at that time were $10.57 a day. The Anaconda Company offered a $1.48 per day wage increase, according to the Standard. The union rejected that offer. 

The Miners Union struck in April of 1946, less than a week before Annala’s home suffered the female-led “riot.”

Within three days of the strike’s announcement, the children and wives of the striking miners began to attack the homes, culminating in the “orgy” of violence that took place three days later on April 14, 1946, when the “mob” ransacked and destroyed Annala’s house, along with others.

The destruction was bad.

Annala’s home, a “modern, two-story,” withstood significant damage. According to the Standard, the “gangs went to work with axes and bludgeons, breaking windows and doors and shattering furniture. A radio and piano were thrown from the house, and inside the vandals leisurely and systematically wrecked furnishings for more than three-quarters of an hour without interference.”

The miners’ wives and kids reportedly went on to overturn and smash a refrigerator and kitchen equipment, dressers and beds were thrown out of the two-story window and “several thousand” gathered to watch and cheer, the Standard reported.

The Miners Union condemned the behavior.

Annala sued Sheriff McLeod for damages, alleging that he “failed and neglected to carry out his duties as sheriff.” When he lost his suit in district court, Annala appealed to the Montana Supreme Court the following year.

McLeod told the Standard at the time of the incident that he had 19 deputies and lacked enough man power to quell the angry “mob” of women and children. At least two boys were badly injured during the “riot” over that weekend and a dozen homes in different neighborhoods across Butte were vandalized.

The Montana Supreme Court at that time struck down Annala’s appeal. In the process, the highest court in the state created the judicial rule known as the "public duty doctrine." That rule is very similar to a law known as sovereign immunity, which was still enshrined within the state’s constitution in 1947.

The public duty doctrine states that a duty to all is a duty to none.

In other words, Sheriff Al McLeod had a duty to the citizenry at large but not a duty specifically to Fred Annala, whose home was destroyed. The new rule saved Sheriff McLeod, and Standard Accident Insurance Company, from having to pay Annala for the damage done to his residence.

It is exactly this rule that Rehbein’s Bozeman-based lawyers are hoping to overturn, by calling into question its constitutionality.

One Anaconda lawyer, 91-year-old Wade Dahood, says the judicial rule shouldn’t exist, and he doesn’t mince words when he talks about it.

“'A duty owed to all is a duty owed to none,'” Dahood said in recent interview with The Montana Standard, reciting the basic premise of the rule. “That’s stupid. But lawyers (in Montana) have to fight that from time to time.”

Dahood still practices law and he is one of the last remaining delegates to Montana’s constitutional convention in 1972. One of his priorities when he went to the convention was to end the government's sovereign immunity.

The original Montana state constitution enshrined sovereign immunity — meaning a citizen could not sue the state or a state employee even when a state employee behaves negligently — when the constitution was written in 1889.

Dahood said sovereign immunity was created in England.

“I argued (at the state's Constitutional Convention) since we don’t have a king in Montana, why do we have (the law) in Montana?” Dahood said from his Anaconda office last month. “I convinced the delegates to do away with it.”

That made the public duty doctrine unconstitutional, argues Rehbein's attorney, Justin Stalpes, of Beck, Amsden and Stalpes.

If Rehbein prevails, she will overturn a 72-year-old precedent that got its start when a group of angry women got fed up with the Anaconda Company.

Dahood says one of the primary reasons to do away with the state’s original constitution was because it, too, had to do with mining.

“The old Constitution had a lot of restrictions on how to tax mining companies,” he said. “It was created by the mining company. Its provisions didn’t help people.”

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Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

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