Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Week Two - Day Two - Closing Arguments

Philip Munger: There were over 70 people present in Courtroom 3 of the Federal Courthouse in Anchorage for this morning's closing arguments in the corruption case against ex-GOP legislator Vic Kohring. It was the seventh day of the trial.

Washington DC-based US Attorney Ed Sullivan opened with his only cogent presentation of the trial. It was focused and concentrated. He gave an overall assessment of the 2006 special sessions of the Alaska Legislature at which Kohring has been alleged to have conducted most of his illegal acts. He named the major oil companies backing Veco - Conoco-Phillips, Exxon and British Petroleum - something that hadn't been done in the prosecution's opening arguments.

Sullivan interspersed audio and video surveillance excerpts highlighting times Kohring took advantage of his knowledge he could milk ex-Veco CEO Bill Allen for money or favors, in exchange for co-operation, rather than, as Allen put it "going crazy" on him. Sullivan persuasively painted Kohring as a somewhat cynical opportunist who squeezed Veco so he wouldn't "screw" them. Sullivan asked the jury "How do you think Bill Allen would have felt if he knew' - Sullivan pointed to Kohring - "HE was playing him?"

Sullivan proposed that Allen would have given Kohring more money had there been a way to do that. But he couldn't, as Allen and Rick Smith were aware of growing scrutiny by the Alaska Public Office Commission, and by the media. Sullivan tied the progression of payments to Kohring with his subsequent fealty to Allen on particular, if not particularly large, issues through the special sessions.

Sullivan moved on to the matter of the job provided by Veco to Kohring's nephew. He asked "Do you think Veco was interested in Aaron [Kohring] because he was a basketball star or passed his algebra exam? No! He was hired because he was Vic Kohring's nephew." Sullivan then put a chart up on the screen - DAMN, I thought we'd be able to get through this trial without a Powerpoint presentation! -
that compared Kohring's acts to elements of the indictment.

John Henry Browne was at his best when talking to the jury about the scope, limitations and responsibilities of their duty as jurors. Others in the audience were impressed by the way he centered on this in his opening. Palmer attorney John Davies told me afterward he was moved to tears, as was my co-blogger, Fred James. I wasn't. But Davies was one of my favorite professors when I returned to college for a year in the 1980s - he was my business law prof. He's working now as Chief of Staff for Wes Keller, the man Sarah Palin appointed to take Vic Kohring's seat in the legislature.

Browne was at his worst when attempting to recount what he considered to be egregious prosecutorial errors. I caught Browne on nine Bullshit moments, where he either told a flat-out lie - "we know that Veco spent $400,000 remodeling Ted Stevens' house" - or when he chastised the Feds bringing up events during the course of the trial that had nothing to do with the charging documents. Give me a break. The Feds brought up the pickup truck Kohring tried to borrow or rent from Allen only because Kohring brings it up on a recorded conversation. But in yesterday's examination by Browne of Bob Hall, the Big Lake firworks magnate, Hall brought up a pickup truck he loaned to kohring for the 2006 campaign. Browne brought it up this morning as if the Feds had been harping away on this. Browne brought this false flag issue up three times.

Browne's low-tech charts on jury responsibilities and jury instructions went from simple - NOT GUILTY MEANS NOT PROVEN - in 140 pt. helvetica, to a two-frame poster giving Jury Instruction #13, that couldn't possibly have been read by anybody more than five feet away from the poster. Where's Ross Perot when you really need him? Browne ended up with another posterboard - BE YOUR WORD. He left it behind, on its tripod stand, as Bottini came up to deliver the Fed's final summation.

Bottini used no notes, as he quickly addressed each of Browne's points from memory. He attacked Browne's contention of a known cost for the Stevens house renovations. He attacked Browne's characterization of Bill Allen as a sleazy lobbyist, by pointing out "Sleazy lobbyist, huh? Didn't stop this guy from dinner with this sleazy lobbyist, taking this sleazy lobbyist's money, eating with him, and getting the sleazy lobbyist to pay for it."

Regarding Browne's contention that the jury must consider the possibility that Allen just plain made up the earlier, six-to-seven-hundred dollar, unrecorded payments to Kohring, Bottini laughed, asking "If Allen is making this stuff up about earlier payments, don't you think he'd do a better job?" Bottini closed, saying "Kohring knew what it took to get money out of this guy. He turned Bill Allen into a human ATM machine. Mr. Kohring traded on his public office. That's all he had to trade."

Bottini was finished, but he looked around, saw Browne's posters against the clerk's desk, picked one up, and put it on the tripod stand. It was the one that said "NOT GUILTY MEANS NOT PROVEN." He took a felt pen, and scratched out the "NOT"s. Turned to Browne and Kohring, smiled a bit, concluding the proceedings.

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