Former Alaska House Speaker Pete Kott came closer to a retrial on corruption charges Friday when a judge appointed an attorney to represent him at government expense and set an aggressive schedule for pretrial motions.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John Roberts of Anchorage ordered motions filed by June 20 but acknowledged the date could slip significantly if Kott's defense waives the normal 70-day speedy trial rule. Otherwise, a trial date in August, assuming prosecutors continue to press the case, would dictate the quick timetable.
Roberts directed prosecutors and the defense to meet by Thursday and, if possible, reach consensus on a retrial date.
The hearing followed rulings by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said Kott of Eagle River and fellow former Republican House member Vic Kohring of Wasilla didn't get fair trials in 2007 because federal prosecutors failed to turn over favorable evidence. The appellate judges sent the cases back to U.S. District Judge John Sedwick for new trials.
Kohring's case is trailing Kott's through the legal system -- the 9th Circuit formally sent Kohring's case back to Anchorage on Thursday, starting his 70-day clock a few days after Kott's began ticking on May 31.
Kott's 25-minute teleconferenced hearing circumnavigated the country, with Kott appearing from Juneau, where he rents an apartment, his attorney in her office in Seattle, and prosecutors in the courtroom and on the phone from Washington, D.C.
Responding to questions from Roberts, Kott said he couldn't afford to hire his own attorney. He owns the 2001 truck that he used in his flooring business, doesn't work and isn't looking for a job. He isn't married, has two credit cards which he keeps current, and swore he hasn't recently stashed away any cash. Among his IRA, life insurance and other long-term investments, he told Roberts he could raise about $200,000, but Roberts didn't direct him to cash out those assets.
Roberts appointed the lawyer who won Kott's appeal, Sheryl Gordon McCloud of Seattle, to represent him. She had asked that a second Seattle attorney, experienced in trials, also be appointed, but Roberts said he thought the law allowed two appointments only in capital cases.
McCloud described herself as an appeals specialist. When it comes to a trial, "I might not be the right attorney," she said. But Roberts said her familiarity with the facts of the case is an asset for Kott -- and for a speedy trial.
A trial isn't all that certain. Federal prosecutors recently reached a deal with Kott's former co-defendant, former Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, in which he pleaded guilty to an obscure state misdemeanor involving lobbying and they dropped four serious felony corruption charges. Had they gone to trial in Weyhrauch's case, they said they wouldn't have called their one-time star witness, imprisoned oil-field service company owner Bill Allen.
Allen was the chief witness in both Kott and Kohring's cases, but his credibility has since been seriously damaged with evidence that his recollections evolved over time, growing more damning against the lawmakers with each FBI and prosecutor interview. News stories have also revealed that he had been the subject of police investigations for having sex with several underage girls, and that there was evidence he asked two of them to commit perjury to protect him.
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.