Two former Alaska state representatives who were convicted on corruption charges in the probe that ended the political career of Sen. Ted Stevens should be released from prison because the Justice Department has found information that should have been disclosed to the defense prior to trial, government lawyers announced this afternoon.
Justice lawyers filed a 4-page motion today (.pdf) urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to remand the cases of former Alaska state representatives Victor Kohring and Peter Kott to the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska to allow further proceedings there, according to a Justice Department statement. Prosecutors did not drop the charges.
In addition, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. is instructing the Criminal Division to review the entire investigation of public corruption in Alaska to determine whether all discovery obligations have been fulfilled. The acknowledgement that prosecutors were negligent in the Kott and Kohring cases is a further embarrassment for the Justice Department, which is already reeling from the collapse of the Stevens prosecution.
In April, Judge Emmet Sullivan of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed all charges against Stevens at the request of the Justice Department. In the Stevens case, a team of veteran Justice lawyers who were conducting post-trial litigation about prosecution misconduct uncovered documents that the trial lawyers improperly failed to give to Stevens’ defense attorneys at Williams & Connolly.
After Sullivan vacated the jury’s verdict against Stevens, the judge ordered a criminal contempt investigation against the team of Justice lawyers who put together the Stevens case: William Welch II, chief of the Public Integrity Section; his deputy chief, Brenda Morris; trial attorneys Nicholas Marsh and Edward Sullivan; and assistant U.S. attorneys Joseph Bottini and James Goeke.
Court records show Goeke, Bottini, Marsh and Sullivan were the prosecutors in the government’s cases against Kohring and Kott. Holder, in a statement, did not name the lawyers involved in the cases and did not identify the nature of the records that the government failed to turn over to defense lawyers.
“Department of Justice prosecutors work hard every day and perform a great service for the American people,” Holder said in the statement. “But the Department’s mission is to do justice, not just win cases, and when we make mistakes, it is our duty to admit and correct those mistakes.”
Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division, said in a statement that the Justice Department will continue regular discovery training for prosecutors “to make certain that they perform their duties in adherence to the highest ethical standards.” The supplemental training was launched following the dismissal of charges against Stevens, who was accused of filing false Senate financial disclosure forms.
Kohring, 50, convicted in November 2007 on charges that included bribery, was sentenced last year to 42 months in prison and two years of supervised release. Kohring is imprisoned at Taft Correctional Institution in Southern California.
His lawyer, John Henry Browne, a solo practitioner in Seattle, said he took a call today from Justice lawyer Kevin Gingras of the Criminal Division’s appellate section. Gingras said there was material that Browne should have had at trial. Browne said Gingras did not describe the evidence that was withheld.
The review of discovery disclosures in the Kohring and Kott cases is not complete, Gingras said in a filing today in the 9th Circuit urging the court to remand the case to the trial court. “The government files this motion, however, because the process has uncovered material that, at this stage, appears to be information that should have been, but was not, disclosed to appellant before his trial,” Gingras said.
Browne was elated at the news. “Thank God we've got judges like Judge Sullivan, thank God we've got lawyers like Brendan Sullivan, thank God we've got attorneys general like Eric Holder, otherwise this would have never come to light," Browne said. "I'm just riding on their coattails."
The other defendant, Kott, who is 59, was sentenced to 72 months in prison after a jury convicted him in September 2007 on similar charges. Kott is incarcerated at the medium-security federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon. Kott’s lawyer, James Wendt of Anchorage, was not immediately reached for comment today.
—Joe Palazzolo and Mike Scarcella