Monday, April 20, 2009

Victor H. Kohring vs. the US, Oral Arguments, April 14th, 2009 - Seattle, Washington

--- by Fred James

On Tuesday April 14 about 11:15 AM Vic Kohring’s lawyer, John Henry Browne of Seattle took on the US Government’s best in a court hearing for Vic’s appeal. The AP reporter who wrote a short, detailed story about this hearing was confronted by an interesting and immense problem, how to concentrate all the little details of this case, which ones to mention and how to deal with with a 40 minute drama which was not cut and dried at all but a series of thrusts and parries. He ended up by simply accounting for what the various principals said.

First you have to know what’s at stake. From Vic’s standpoint, most importantly, his liberty which is severely curtailed at the moment because he’s in Taft Correctional Institution in Taft, CA dining and living the “corrected life” at taxpayer expense. From the US Government’s point of view, having just been stung with a major rebuke in the Stevens’ case which is a larger part of this drama, the US lawyers wanted to nail down their defense of this conviction.

Vic was sentenced to 42 months in prison for bribery and extortion which from my view is absolutely ridiculous. He is intellectually and morally incapable of bribery and he thought (until they charged him with it) that extortion was what gangsters in movies did. As his friend, as someone who has been camping with him, shooting with him, eating with him (That’s an event because he has to fuel a 6’7” large body!) debating with him, editing his writings, meeting and gradually getting to know his parents, siblings and extended family, I know that he was given some money from a very rich friend (Bill Allen the head of VECO) to buy gifts and practical things for his daughter who Bill Allen enjoyed no end. But Vic did NOT agree to vote or do any political act in return! There was no bribe or extortion! More than one person has admitted that Allen did not need to bribe Vic because Vic’s reputation as an anti-tax free marketeer was already richly established. Vic voted all his career against taxes. That was one of the reasons I was his friend!

I witnessed every step of the trial and concluded that the Judge actually prosecuted Vic. Government lawyers were not needed. The judge denied Vic’s motions, refused to recuse himself over an issue we discovered on the last day of the trial and did not permit the jury to hear important parts of the defense. This judge John Sedwick is married to Deborah Sedwick who walked into the courtroom on the last day of the trial. This is when Vic realized that his worst enemy in Juneau was none other than the judge’s wife. The principal US Government witness, Bill Allen, lives 40 feet from the judge! The second highest government witness Rick Smith and the judge went to school with each other in Anchorage.

I read the written appeal which was masterfully done by John Henry Browne. It was a systematic, thorough, clearly written string of issues that, even if only one of them were to be seen as true by the appellate judges, it would be enough to set aside Vic’s verdict and grant him a new trial. Included in this list were the issues of: The judge’s refusal to recuse himself over being married to Vic’s major political enemy, closed hearings, change of venue denied, witnesses denied, entire parts of the defense denied, FBI lies to Vic regarding a search warrant for his office, and being denied the right to show the jury Vic’s written and oral habit of ending telephone or physical conversations with his patented expression, “Thanks, if I can be of any help to you, please call me at any time.” I had 80 people lined up who were willing to tell the jury about this Vic expression. The government turned his expression around to make it appear as if Vic were agreeing to do Bill Allen’s biding. We were completely prevented from showing how Vic said this sort of thing to everyone!

Finally Vic never voted for Bill Allen’s VECO Corporation bill that was the center of the whole trial effort! There was no quid pro quo. What the government did was make it look like Vic had accepted a bribe. And the judge prevented any defense action to demonstrate the opposite. The jury was in effect conned into declaring Vic guilty on some of the charges.

I know these things from being in Juneau when he had the fights with Deborah Sedwick, I saw with my own eyes most of these things.

The appeal was a written, legal account of about twelve major issues that would reverse Vic’s verdict. The appellate court judges were given this written appeal months ago and the hearing Tuesday was to give each side a chance to state openly in court their side and refute their opponents. At stake was Vic’s liberty and reputation. Now you know what was discussed on Tuesday. The two sides had exactly 40 minutes to state their case and answer any questions the judges had.

As a result John Henry Brown, Vic’s attorney who happens to be as tall as Vic himself, was extremely time constrained and had to concentrate on only several of the appellate issues. He chose the Recusal Issue (Judge Sedwick should have brought up the fact that his wife was a major enemy of Vic’s BEFORE the trial started but did not!) and the issue of Closed Hearings!

Dan Ray, formerly of Wasilla, myself, Joanna Hamed of Woodinville, WA, a lawyer herself and sister of one of Vic’s and my friend Richard A. Benner Jr. were camped in the courtroom on Vic’s behalf. It was a small room with three judges facing the attorneys. The judges were Judge Betty Fletcher a little, tiny lady who could barely be seen over the desk and walked with an aluminum walker, Judge CJJ Thomas and Judge Tashima.

John Henry Brown (JHB) began with the issue of closed hearings. He spoke over and over about how he objected to it in the closed hearings themselves and later in open court and now at this oral hearing. His sincerity was catching. JHB accused the government of creating a ruse to protect their star witness from the jury learning that he was an accused rapist. ALthough JHB did not use that term; he said that the government said the reason for closed hearing was to protect the “integrity of the investigative process” but in fact it was really to keep the jury from knowing that Allen was accused of doing “bad things.”

Later when the wimpy little government lawyer was gesticulating and back pedaling wildly at JHB’s thrusts, Judge Thomas asked him, “Why did the government insist on closed hearings when the issue did not merit it?” (Which was agreeing with JHB!!!) and the little Vahrule mumbled, backed up and made up words that said nothing. Dan looked at me and smiled, letting me know he saw this victory too.

The second issue JHB spoke to was Recusal. Why didn’t Judge Sedwick recuse himself with the overwhelming amount of evidence that indeed his wife had been Vic’s major enemy and Vic had worked successfully over two years to abolish his wife’s entire department. (This had nothing to do with her personally. It had to do with Vic’s consistent effort to stream line state government by combining two departments into one and getting rid of a lot of dead weight management.) JHB mentioned the newspaper columns devoted to it, the radio shows, TV news. It had been an ongoing major story and the judge said he did not remember it.

A judge asked JHB, “Why did it take you over two months from the time of the guilty verdict to making this recusal motion?” This was a charge the government had made many months earlier. JHB answered, “For good reason judge, I did not want to accuse a sitting judge without proof so Vic spent two full months gathering the newspaper, TV and radio headlines and proving the judge was married to Deborah at the time and had ample opportunity to know full well he was sitting in judgment over a person his wife fought heavily with for over two years! Vic came up with so much material he convinced me it was true and only then did I write the motion to recuse.”

Then the judge asked JHB, “When Judge Sedwick told you he did not remember the battle between himself and his wife, why did you not take him at face value?” JHB answered, “Because his statement was unbelievable!”

The wimpy little government lawyer was questioned hard too. He was asked by Judge Betty Fletcher, who commented that she had read the oral appeal and listened to one of the tapes about why Judge Sedwick had not recused himself given the pages of evidence that JHB had produced to prove it, Puny government lawyer again back pedaled, mumbled and had no real answer. Judge Fletcher interrupted him by saying, “To sum it up are you saying the judge forgot?” This prompted an observer to remark, “Barbs left in somebody’s side!” Another great victory for Vic. And we now know that at least one of the judges actually read and listened to the tapes!!!

In fact this wimpy man lacked conviction in his position so much that he was left exaggerating to the point of lying to the judges. He said Vic got a job for his nephew from Bill Allen which would have been illegal. But at trial I personally observed JHB completely refute that notion by getting Rick Smith to admit that it was Smith himself who suggested to Allen to give Vic’s nephew a job...not Vic. But wimp himself spoke as if it was proven that Vic was found guilty of this even though he was not!

I wish as Vic’s friend that I could tell him JHB easily won the day and that these judges will vacate his sentence and free him. But the three appellate judges were successful in keeping poker faces at all of the answers and statements by the opposing lawyers before them. If the judges are rational and competent and do not protect their fellow judge, then I believe the evidence is so rich and compelling that they should let Vic go. And JHB’s oral arguments were competent and sincere. But I can not say what these judges will rule. I asked a court clerk on the scene how long it normally takes before this three judge panel will rule. I was told it could be three weeks to three months but averages about one month.

Stay tuned. the battle continues.