Judge shifts Kott, Kohring retrials to Fairbanks

Richard Mauer

A federal judge ruled on Friday that the corruption retrials of two former legislators will be moved to Fairbanks from Anchorage in "an abundance of caution" to ensure the two men get fair juries.

Former House Speaker Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, and former Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, had sought to move their cases to other states, citing extensive pretrial publicity.

Kohring asked that his Oct. 31 trial take place in another western state in the nine-state region of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Kott, set for trial Dec. 5, wanted it to be somewhere other than Anchorage, including another state, but didn't ask for a specific venue.

In back-to-back rulings Friday morning that contained nearly identical language, U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline said he believed it would be possible, "with sufficient time and effort," to find fair juries in Anchorage.

But he said the points made by attorneys for Kohring and Kott are "not completely without merit, especially in light of the considerable post-trial publicity that this and related matters have generated." His order didn't change the trial dates.

Beistline, who served as a state Superior Court judge in Fairbanks before his appointment to the federal bench, said the northern city would be an apt location for the trials.

Writing in Kott's case, Beistline said, "Defendant has not been tried in Fairbanks before, nor has he been the subject of the type of public discourse in Fairbanks that has surrounded him in Anchorage. Defendant is not known personally in Fairbanks. Jury selection would therefore likely proceed without great difficulty."

He used similar language in Kohring's order.

Kott, in asking for a new venue last month, said a "media frenzy" began with the 2006 FBI raids of legislative offices and continued through the corruption trials of 2007 in which he and Kohring were found guilty. It didn't abate with their appeals and the orders for retrials that followed, he said.

Both Kott and Kohring said Beistline should presume that jurors in Anchorage would approach the trials with prejudice.

But Beistline said that wasn't his experience over his years as a judge. Even though the extensive publicity might "complicate" jury selection in Anchorage, "prejudice against Kohring cannot be presumed." He said the same thing about Kott.

Reach Richard Mauer at rmauer@adn.com or 257-4345.

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