Sunday, June 6, 2010

Prosecution Responds to Vic Kohring's Motion for a Dismissal or a New Trial

Anchorage—

The Department of Justice has filed its opposition to Vic Kohring’s motion seeking a dismissal of his convictions or—short of that—a new trial. The government’s message can be boiled down to four points:

1. We screwed up. The government admits “regrettable missteps” in the original prosecution team’s sharing of evidence with the defense before the trial of the former Alaska legislator.

2. We didn’t mean to mess up on the discovery. The government says it doesn’t seek to make “excuses” while asserting that “There are many reasons for these errors” in providing evidence to the defense before the trial. The prosecution's filing does not discuss or elaborate on those "many reasons." Knowing that a belief by the court that the trial prosecutors showed bad faith in the handling of discovery makes it particularly likely that the convictions will go away, however, the Department of Justice wants the court to know that those “many reasons” do not include any malice on the part of the original government lawyers. Accordingly, the Department of Justice stresses that Kohring’s lawyers are long on “overheated rhetoric” alleging that the government’s original lawyers intentionally withheld evidence but have not pointed to any evidence of “any plot to violate his rights.”

3. Even though we made some “mistakes,” we have sure cleaned up our act now. While acknowledging the “missteps” made in this case, the government insists that the failures have resulted in reforms. “In an effort to avoid these problems in the future, the Department has taken significant steps to establish clear guidelines and better training” for all federal prosecutors in the handling of discovery. Specifically, the reforms triggered by last year’s high-profile collapse of the prosecution of former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens include improved training and the promulgation of more discovery policies within the Department. The government wants the court to believe that there is no need to deter future misconduct by dismissing this case, because the Department of Justice’s post-Stevens reforms will prevent that misconduct.

4. Most importantly, the “mistakes” in the provision of discovery do not mean that Vic Kohring’s case should be dismissed, because the surveillance tapes of his interactions with Bill Allen prove that the former legislator is a criminal irrespective of any screw-ups in providing discovery. Once again, the government’s twin arguments are “The tapes trump” and “No harm, no foul.” The government asserts that the evidence against Kohring—particularly on the FBI’s tapes—was so strong that the ex-Republican lawmaker from Wasilla would have been convicted even if the defense had received all the materials that should have been turned over. The government particularly focuses on the meeting where Rep. Kohring asked former VECO CEO Bill Allen for help regarding his $17,000 credit card bill and ended up by getting cash from the powerbroker, ostensibly for an Easter gift for the legislator’s stepdaughter. This incident occurred in front of VECO VP Rick Smith in the infamous VECO-rented Suite 604 of the Baranof Hotel during the 2006 legislative session, and was all caught on videotape made by an FBI bug. The government points out that the most Kohring should get is a new trial, but with all its other problems in the “POLAR PEN” probe into Alaska public corruption the prosecution particularly does not want to re-try this case. The government’s position is summarized thusly: “Kohring was a corrupt public official who betrayed the public trust in exchange for cash handed to him by businessmen seeking to buy his official acts, exchanges captured on tape for the jury.”

The defense gets the final word on this motion before U.S. District Judge John Sedwick will make his decision. The judge has already rejected the similar arguments made by former State Rep. Pete Kott (R.-Eagle River).

7 comments:

Jennifer said...

How often do citizens hear that "ignorance of the law is no excuse"? Who can keep up with the law? If the government's arguements stand and no lawyers get into serious trouble, then if someone breaks the law but no one is really hurt, the accused shouldn't be sent to prison or have serious punishments other than a slap on the wrist.

I am nobody, but I believe that lawyers have too much education and regular people get into too much trouble and have to pay too much for defense for lawyers to make mistakes. They certainly go after people who have made innocent mistakes in other cases.

How would they feel if omitting evidence became a crime or the judge wanted to charge it as such?

The Bar association and the judges tend to not take problems seriously. Sharks have professional courtesy, and it is quite sad.

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Atticus said...

I would like to see your interests turn to state level criminal justice corruption: what happens to people accused by the state AGs office through its prosecutors, how the system is economically and legally stacked against the accused, how judges and their clerks are not held accountable, prosecutors are getting away with illegal acts (as they are all over the country unfortunately), and even how our prisons do not follow the law, violate prisoners' rights, and there is no independent agency for them to turn to for redress or protection. It is thoroughly disgusting what is being done to people in this state, at the same time prosecutors rush to charge anyone who steps out of line, or who has an accident that harms another person, with as many and as harsh a list of charges as they can. Once charged, most pay a heavy price regardless of their lack of guilt, their lack of intent to commit a crime, or it being a non-serious crime (the sort of behaviors babyboomers and our ancestors were not charged for and still managed to leave productive, responsible lives). In some of our courts, judges behave as though they answer to the prosecutors instead of the other way around. So, please, now that you've devoted appropriate attention to the federal level problems in our state, please research and make public our state level criminal justice problems and too cozy relationships that's created and tolerates a corrupt environment.

Thanks for the work you've done thus far.

Cliff Groh said...

Jennifer, I don't agree that you are nobody--you are somebody who thinks and asks good questions. You are correct in that some will definitely be pushing for prosecution--or at the very least professional sanctions--if the investigations of Ted Stevens' original prosecutors produce findings that sustain the worst allegations against some or all of those lawyers. The argument will be what is good for the goose is good for the gander--i.e., lawyers and judges should be held to at least the same standards of conduct as others.

Atticus, you raise some provocative points. If you have complaints about specific actions of state employees or officials, the Alaska Office of the Ombudsman investigates citizen complaints against state government agencies and employees. I'm still working on covering the federal investigation into Alaska public corruption. I appreciate your faith in my efforts.

Cliff Groh