There's a new judge, a different courtroom and new lawyers on both defense and prosecution tables, and now there are new trial dates for two former Alaska state legislators who have been tried and convicted before: Pete Kott and Vic Kohring.
"I have heard this week that I was going to be the judge," U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline said Friday morning at a hearing to review the status of Kohring's case and set a trial date.
"So we have three new people," Beistline said, referring to himself, defense attorney Michael Filipovic and assistant U.S. attorney Kevin Feldis. Then, addressing Kohring, who was attending the hearing by phone, Beistline said, "You'll be the only one that's gone through this twice."
About an hour later, at a similar hearing for Kott, another new defense attorney introduced himself to Beistline by telephone, Peter Camiel.
Beistline set Kohring's trial for Oct. 31 and Kott's for Dec. 5. Both men had sought somewhat later trials but their attorneys said they would be prepared by Beistline's dates.
The retrials were ordered by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because prosecutors with the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section improperly withheld favorable evidence from the defense.
Kott, an Eagle River Republican, and Kohring, a Republican from Wasilla, last served in the Legislature in 2006. They were convicted the next year on corruption charges.
The Public Integrity Section was nowhere to be seen or heard from Friday, though several attorneys from that office, in Washington, D.C., remain listed on the cases.
Feldis, the chief criminal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage, declined to say what involvement the Public Integrity Section might still have.
At hearings last month on Kott and Kohring before a different federal judge, Feldis said that officials from the Justice Department in Washington hadn't yet decided whether to retry the two men.
But on Friday, Feldis said a decision had been made to pursue the retrials.
It's unknown how similar the new trials will be to the old ones. Responding to an issue raised by Filipovic, Feldis declined to say whether the retrial will feature two of the leading witnesses in both Kohring's and Kott's original trials: Bill Allen, once the leading oil-field contractor in Alaska, and one of his vice presidents, Rick Smith. Most of the evidence that had been improperly withheld from the defendants concerned serious credibility and character flaws of Allen and, to a lesser extent, Smith.
The judge in both original trials, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick, removed himself from the cases Monday when it became clear they couldn't be heard by August or September.
In 2007, Sedwick was the district's chief judge but that title now belongs to Beistline. Sedwick is now on senior status -- a reduced workload, though not retirement. He said through a spokeswoman earlier this week that he had made prior commitments for the period that coincided with the later retrial dates.
In their original trials, Kott and Kohring had retained counsel but now both say they are indigent and are represented by Seattle lawyers at government expense. Filipovic is a federal public defender while Camiel is appointed. On Friday, Beistline told Camiel he could hire the Seattle attorney who won Kott's appeal, Sheryl Gordon McCloud, to work on pretrial motions, with up to a maximum of 60 hours of her time paid by the government.
On the prosecution side, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Alaska was initially barred from involvement in the FBI's investigation of political corruption here in 2005 or 2006. The Justice Department has refused to make public the directive that recused the local office but it occurred as the investigation was expanding to include U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young.
In 2009, after Stevens was convicted but had his case thrown out because of government misconduct, the U.S. Attorney's Office was authorized by the Justice Department to reenter proceedings. Young was told last year that he was no longer under investigation.
As he closed out Kohring's hearing Friday, Beistline asked the attorneys to file their motions as soon as possible so that he could familiarize himself with the issues.
"Everyone in this room know more about this case than I do," Beistline said, then added, "but I read the papers."
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.
By RICHARD MAUER