Two ex-lawmakers advanced toward trials on corruption charges Monday when a judge set an August date for Pete Kott's retrial, and another judge granted Vic Kohring a government-paid attorney for his do-over.
The Aug. 8 trial date for Kott, a former Republican House Speaker from Eagle River, is nearly three months sooner than he wanted. But U.S. District Judge John Sedwick said in a ruling Monday that Kott failed to show why he needed so long to prepare his case, especially since he was tried once before on the same conspiracy, bribery and extortion charges.
Kohring, a former Republican representative from Wasilla, arrived at a status hearing Monday morning using a borrowed vehicle. The $40 in his pocket, he told Magistrate Judge John Roberts, was also borrowed.
Famous for living on the cheap even as a member of the Legislature -- he sometimes slept in his office in the Capitol to save on housing costs -- Kohring testified he now has less than a dollar combined in his four bank accounts. Since getting out of prison a year ago to pursue an appeal of his 2007 conviction for, among other things, taking cash in return for votes on an oil-tax bill, Kohring said in court that he only worked "doing odd jobs" as a handyman.
Kohring and Kott both won appeals at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said their original trials in 2007 were tainted by the failure of the prosecution to turn over favorable evidence.
Events are proceeding in both cases, though prosecutors say a final decision hasn't been made on whether they will be retried.
After Kohring pleaded poverty at his Monday morning hearing, Roberts said the Seattle public defender who represented Kohring before the 9th Circuit, Michael Filipovic, could continue as his attorney at government expense. Speaking by telephone, Filipovic said he would likely need appointment of a second attorney for a retrial, but that issue was left unresolved.
Chief criminal prosecutor Kevin Feldis of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage said the Justice Department hadn't yet decided whether it would retry Kohring, but as in Kott's case, prosecutors were moving ahead as if it would. The decision would be made by a high-level official in Washington, Feldis said.
Roberts, managing pretrial issues for Sedwick, directed the prosecution and defense to propose a trial date for Kohring.
That's what happened in the Kott case on Friday, when the two sides filed paperwork with Roberts that they would be prepared to go before a jury on Oct. 31. In the same filing, Kott agreed to waive his right to a speedy trial, arguing he needed additional time "to review the voluminous amounts of discovery and investigation" -- including some 4,500 pages of documents turned over by prosecutors since Kott's original trial.
But Sedwick said Monday there would be no such delay. He ordered the trial to take place within the normal 70-day speedy trial calendar, which started running when the 9th Circuit officially returned the case to Anchorage on May 31.
Sedwick noted that Kott's Seattle attorney, Sheryl Gordon McCloud, didn't file a sworn statement about why the delay was necessary. But even if she had, he said, it probably wouldn't have made a difference since the entire motion for delay "is premised on generalities about how much work must be done to prepare for trial." The case has already been tried once, he said, and prosecutors have long turned over all the evidence.
Kott is also asking that the government pay for two lawyers to represent him, but Roberts turned him down Monday afternoon.
In objecting to appointment of a second attorney, Feldis said last week there was nothing so complex about the case that Kott needed the extra help.
"While this case is indeed significant, and has attracted substantial attention, as a legal and factual matter it is not 'extremely difficult' or complex," Feldis said. "Other issues identified by Kott as potentially complicating the case may well fail to materialize, if, for example, the United States decides not to call certain witnesses who testified at the first trial." That was an apparent reference to the government's star witness in 2007, the former chief executive of the oil field service company Veco, Bill Allen, who has since been largely discredited.
In her own filing Friday, McCloud, said that not appointing a second attorney would again prejudice Kott. If anything, his case is more complex now than ever, she said.
"It has gotten at least 4,500 pages and numerous witnesses more complicated," she wrote in her reply.
But Roberts said a sole attorney could handle the case, supplemented with a government-paid investigator or paralegal if necessary.
"Compared with other cases pending before this court, this case does not qualify as an 'extremely difficult' case requiring the need for two court-appointed attorneys to represent the defendant," Roberts said in his order.
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.
By RICHARD MAUER