by Paul Koberstein
activist claims mining industry retaliation
Barbara Miller wore prison green as she spoke from
inside the Shoshone County Jail.
"I'm a political prisoner of the state of
Idaho," she said defiantly. "I was put
here by the good old boys and the mining industry
in Shoshone County."
Miller, executive director of the Silver Valley
People's Action Coalition (SVPAC), is known nationally
as the leading local advocate for a thorough and
effective cleanup of mining waste in the Coeur d'Alene
Basin. She was sent to jail for five days in late
March by Judge Dan McGee for minor violations of
a child custody decree between her and her ex-husband,
Ed Miller. Miller's attorney, Michael Branstetter,
has repeatedly and aggressively used McGee's court
to score legal victories against the former wife.
Twice, motions seeking jail time for alleged violations
of visitation rules have been granted.
Branstetter, a lawyer in private practice, is known
locally as an attorney representing ASARCO and Hecla,
two large mining companies in the Silver Valley,
as well as smaller mining interests. Branstetter
also represents the school district in Wallace that
for years has denied that pollution on its school
grounds is hazardous or has caused childhood health
Barbara Miller's bitterness is compounded by her
suspicion that mining companies are footing her
ex-husband's legal bills as "payback"
for her environmental work, though she has no proof.
Branstetter did not return telephone calls. Neither
did Ed Miller, a bar owner in Kellogg.
Judge McGee has stripped Miller of her house, almost
all of her other financial assets, and placed a
$14,000 court judgment on her head. She says she
can't afford to pay the judgment on her $12,000
annual salary. The ex-husband now owns the house,
and will personally collect thousands from the court
judgment. McGee also jailed Barbara Miller in 2000
for a similar minor custody violation, and in 1999
sent her to jail for voting in the wrong precinct,
a charge rarely if ever leveled in Idaho history.
Barbara Miller maintains she was innocent of all
charges, and accuses her ex-husband of domestic
According to court documents and police records,
Ed Miller assaulted Barbara Miller in their home
in 1998, an event that triggered the divorce. A
son witnessed the attack, and three police officers
who responded to the incident reported cuts and
bruises on Barbara's head and arm. The report notes
that Barbara Miller suffered a bump on the back
of her head, a cut on her lower outer right hand
and a bump on the front of her head just above the
left eye brow.
"Ed Miller came out of the rec room as I was
going up the stairs," Barbara Miller said.
"I recall him throwing me down on the stairs,
hard and then shoving my head into the wall a couple
of times. There was an iron railing on the wall.
I think my head was shoved against it at least once
by Ed Miller. It was very frightening."
And yet Judge McGee dismissed the ex-husband from
jail a few hours after his arrest on grounds of
"no probable cause." The case was never
prosecuted. Legal experts contacted by Cascadia
Times say in Idaho it's rare for domestic violence
cases to be dropped without a hearing, especially
in cases with physical evidence (bruises) and a
The court system failing her, Barbara Miller says
she was left with no option but to file a civil
suit against her ex-husband for the assault. That
case goes to trial in September, says Miller's attorney
Miller formed the People's Action Coalition in
1986, fighting for a more extensive cleanup of mining
waste in the Silver Valley. Last fall, the Ford
Foundation honored Miller with its "Leadership
for a Changing World Award," and a $130,000
grant to support the Coalition's work. In early
March, Boise State University recognized Miller
as one of its "Women Making History"
Miller says she is not opposed to mining in the
basin. Her father worked in the mines. Miller's
top priority is the establishment of the Community
Lead Health Project in Silver Valley, where lead-poisoned
children, former workers and residents could for
the first time obtain diagnosis and treatment for
lead poisoning and other health problems.
Support for Miller's cause is growing around the
"She's been blamed for every ill in North
Idaho mining country since Superfund arrived,"
writes Dave Oliveria in the Spokane Spokesman-Review.
"The restless natives cheer when she occasionally
lands in jail for petty offenses. The Barbashers
even tried to bushwhack her nomination for a $130,000
Ford Foundation award. It didn't work. Miller and
her People's Action Coalition got the award for
fighting to rid Shoshone County of toxic waste.
Saint? Sinner? Dunno. But she's got guts."
"This is the kind of legal action businesses
use in an effort to financially and emotionally
destroy people like Barbara who believe in democracy
and participate in our democratic way of life,"
says Darlene Schanfald of Port Angeles, who has
been fighting for a Superfund cleanup of an old
Rayonier paper mill in her community. "What
does this say about a corporation or anyone involved
in trying to hurt Barbara that would use a child,
in this case Barbara's daughter, as a pawn."
"She is a champion on a mountain of pollution
of the likes found no where else in the world,"
says former SV PAC board member Tina Paddock of
McMinnville, Ore. "Local community leaders
ignore the fact that hundreds of people are still
being lead poisoned, exposed to arsenic, cadmium
and continue to suffer health consequences for the
past one hundred years of pollution."
"When will these attacks end?" Paddock
"Barbara needs powerful attorneys to help
her fight this harassment," said Jeri Gillespie,
an activist in Okanogan, Wash. "She also needs
more support from the environmental community, to
help her deal with the negative impacts on her emotions
and sense of well-being."
Edie Schultz, president of the Silver Valley People's
Action Coalition, said the case against Barbara
Miller is part of a "vicious cycle carefully
put together by the mining companies and in my opinion
corrupt legal system in Shoshone County. "(Our)
mission is to have a healthy community for children
to grow up in and not have the threat of toxic contamination."