Kott, Kohring remain free pending evidence review

CONVICTED LAWMAKERS: Government expected to complete review of evidence by end of July.

June 17, 2009 

Former legislators Pete Kott, looking trim, and Vic Kohring, his hair freshly styled and stubbly beard shaved off, said Wednesday they were relishing their freedom from prison after a judge confirmed their continued release without cash bond.

Their back-to-back hearings in U.S. District Court behind them, Republicans Kott, a former House speaker from Eagle River, and Kohring, elected six times from Wasilla, told reporters they were looking forward to going fishing and spending time with family and friends. Both said they planned to work, Kohring selling fireworks at a friend's stand in Houston and Kott in the family flooring business.

Kott and Kohring appeared to be in no danger of missing the Fourth of July -- or Labor Day, for that matter -- even if they eventually fail in their bids to get their 2007 corruption convictions voided and charges thrown out.

James Trusty, the prosecutor speaking for the new Justice Department team on the Alaska corruption cases, said in court that the government doesn't expect to complete its review of evidence in the case until July 31, an essential step before anything else can proceed.

Prosecutors are searching through FBI and attorney files going back at least to 2004, looking for evidence that should have been turned over to the defense before their trials.

Kohring's lawyer, John Henry Browne of Seattle, told reporters he's already gotten about 1,000 pages of such material in the last week or so.

"There was a lot of evidence that should've been turned over to us that pointed directly at his innocence," Browne said. He couldn't say why the evidence was relevant -- a protective order prohibits him and Kott's lawyers from disclosing anything about it. Prosecutors were not talking publicly about the material either.

The former legislators, convicted of bribery and conspiracy for selling their votes on an oil-tax bill in 2006, were freed from federal prisons last week after the government admitted it failed to adhere to one of the central tenets of a fair trial: providing defendants with evidence that could help convince a jury they were not guilty.

Talking to reporters at the courthouse, Kohring said his good friend, Gorilla Fireworks owner Robert Hall, offered him a job at one of the fireworks stands on the Parks Highway. Kohring said he may have an offer from another friend as well. He wouldn't describe that other job, except that it was in an office.

Kohring, notorious for claiming poverty, said he mooched a free haircut this week from a friend at the Beehive Beauty Shop in Wasilla, the same place that helped Sarah Palin develop her "updo." Kohring said he was so busy accepting lunch invitations and seeing visitors at home that he hasn't had a chance yet to go fishing. When he does, he said, he'll dipnet for salmon on the Copper River.

"I'm going to sit on the rocks and find a good eddy," Kohring said.

"He told me he's going to pay me in fish," Browne added.

Kott, standing beside his girlfriend and two grown children, said he has been taking it easy since getting back.

"It's been a tough year and half. It's just nice to be back with all the supporters, family and friends," he said.

Kott said he planned to return to his business, now run by his son.

"I'm still a flooring contractor by trade," Kott said. "I've had several people already approach me and ask me to work for them around the state. At this point, I'm just going to relax for a few days and maybe do some fishing this weekend and enjoy some of the Alaska outdoors that I've missed for the last year and half."

During the hearings, which each lasted less than 20 minutes, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick ordered defense and prosecution to file suggestions by Aug. 31 about how the cases should proceed. Sedwick could determine the material wasn't prejudicial and send the men back to prison; he could order new trials; or he could dismiss charges outright. Prosecutors haven't said yet what they will ask for.

When a similar situation arose after a jury found U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens guilty of lying on his financial disclosures, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder moved to dismiss charges "in the interest of justice," widely interpreted to be a reference to Stevens' advanced age -- 85.

Browne said Holder and the Justice Department should do the same for Kohring.

Kott declined to characterize his case for reporters.

"It's going to be left up to the government to determine what course of action they want to pursue and I think until they review all the information, and we have an opportunity to review all the information, nobody can really say one way or other how this is going to end up," Kott said.

"It's a positive step for me, regardless, that we're at this point, this juncture."

Kott's trial attorney, Jim Wendt, announced in court he was leaving the case in favor of Kott's appeals attorney, Sheryl Gordon McCloud of Seattle, who listened to the hearing by telephone.

Kott said he could no longer afford an attorney and asked the court to pick up McCloud's fees. Sedwick said he would take that matter under advisement once Kott provided a financial statement.

In the hearings, Sedwick said he planned to impose the same minimal restrictions on Kott and Kohring as he did prior to their trials: no need for cash bail, freedom to move about the state, no curfew. At Kott and Kohring's requests, he loosened the rules even further. Rather than require them to get a judge's permission before leaving the state, they now only have to provide an itinerary to the federal probation office.

Kohring said he planned to go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to continue treatment on an injured neck and back.

In one other development, interim U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler sat at the prosecution table for the first time in any of the corruption cases, signalling that the Anchorage office is once again part of the corruption case. Though she was one of the supervising attorneys in the very early stages of the corruption investigation, she and the Alaska U.S. Attorney's office were taken off the case by the Justice Department.

While two lawyers from the U.S. Attorney's office were assigned to the corruption investigation, they were supervised long-distance by the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section. Experts have cited poor supervision as one reason the Stevens case went so badly awry.

Loeffler, a career prosecutor who has specialized in white-collar cases, didn't give a reason in court why her office was back on the case and wouldn't talk about it afterward.

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