Monday, October 22, 2007

Kohring Trial Day 1 - Jury Selection and the Defense Attorney

9:00 AM3:07-CR-00055-JWSJudge SedwickAnchorage Courtroom 3


Today was devoted to jury selection. Judge Sedwick used the same process he used in the Kott and Anderson trials. The first part already happened - the elimination of potential jurists based on their questionnaires. From what I understand, those who expressed bias about the case there, have been eliminated. When I walked into court today, about 9:15 am, the gallery was packed by people with little blue stickers on their chests that said "Juror."

I missed the first part, but I imagine it was the same as the Kott trial - jurors were introduced to the various parties, told the charges, given instructions about their job and restrictions about talking to others or viewing news about the case. Another court observer told me that one of the potential witnesses, Fred James, was given permission to be in the courtroom for the jury selection process. He's one of the two writers of the USA v. Victor H. Kohring blog I mentioned yesterday. What I hadn't realized was that the two writers have different views on the defendant and the blog will reflect this. James, I was told, is a long time, good friend of Kohring's.

Anyway, the jury was sent out and then they were brought back in, one-at-a-time to answer questions about their awareness of the case, the people involved in the case, and whether they could be fair and unbiased. The basic questions the judge asked were:
1. Where do you get your news?
2. Do you remember anything from the news about Kohring or Veco, Bill Allen, Rick Smith?
If they did, then
3. What do you know, have you formed an opinion, could you give a fair hearing. One question he asked along these lines to one or two jurors was, "If you were the defendant, would you want someone like you on the jury?"

Most of the jurors said they don't pay much attention to politics and don't know much or anything about the case. My sense this time round - I stayed for the first 29 jurors and the lunch break - was that even when they said they knew nothing, they tended not to be as oblivious as that suggested. When pressed they often knew something

Two jurors, while I was there, were dismissed. One because she had a back problem and sitting for long times caused her pain. Another, a full time student who works full time hadn't asked to be dismissed. The judge asked if this would affect his studies. He said he'd miss some midterms. The judge asked why he hadn't asked to get out. "Several people told me it wouldn't do any good." The judge said, "Well this court is a little friendlier. A two day trial would be ok, but a two week trial would really affect your studies. I'm going to excuse you."

One juror met Rick Smith, a likely witness, smoking outside Reilly's Bar several times. Another juror who works at Cal Worthington Ford, met Bill Allen there. A third juror had been at meetings of his Community Council when Vic Kohring attended. Alaska is a small place.

Jury Composition

The jury looked different from the Anderson and Kott jury pools. The most striking difference was the relative balance of genders. The Kott trial ended up with ten women and two men. But today, in the first 29 jurors questioned, 15 were men, 14 were women. There were two African Americans, a person from Bethel and one from Unalaska, if I understood right. The ages of the jurors seemed more evenly distributed than the prior two jurors - the Anderson jury being particularly young looking. And there was even one gentleman who had on a tie!

John Henry Browne

For me the big unknown was the defense attorney. When I walked in, I saw him from behind and thought he was younger until he turned and faced the gallery. He was wearing what looked like an expensive light grey suit with just a touch of green. His shirt was just barely pink. The prosecutors, in comparison, were in dark, dark grey to black suits with white shirts, except for Mr. Goeke who had a beige shirt. Even Agent Mary Beth Kepner [Thanks, Steve, I was getting tired when I did that] had on a grey suit. And Mr. Browne's hair also looked expensive - basically brown with what would have been called surfer blond streaks where I grew up near Venice Beach. OK, I know what some of you are thinking. But this is not intended as a fashion evaluation of the attorneys. I do think, however, that the dress does tell us something about people. Browne very definitely pays attention to how he looks. He also has trouble talking without moving. If his arms aren't moving, or his hands, then his fingers are moving. A few times I could even see the muscles in his back moving through his jacket. And this was just very low key questions to the jury.

His voice is radio quality deep and his intonation is precise, more articulated than most American speakers naturally talk. Perhaps he's done some acting or had other voice coaching.

When he asked questions of the jurors, or even when he didn't, he would say, "Good morning" in the same exact tone which sounded warm and interested the first time, but after hearing it repeated precisely many times, it began to sound canned. For two jurors, he said something like, "Your comments were much more extensive than the other jurors" which I thought sounded like calculated flattery, and which caused Prosecutor Botinni to object to the "unnecessary editorial comments" about juror performance. The judge concurred.

He also addressed the court twice, between jurors, with two questions that I thought seemed inappropriate. The first time he wanted to know about jurors who came from outside of Anchorage - who paid for them? (The court pays their airfare and hotel, but they don't go back for weekends the judge replied.) The second question was whether the jurors came from all of Alaska. The judge explained that they only came from the Anchorage district, which was a large district, stretching from Cordova to the Aleutians. It just seemed to me that these were curiosity items, that I would have written down and checked on later. Or, as the Outside defense attorney, I would have found out before the trial. And being an Outside attorney - the local attorney Wayne Anthony Ross was not there today - he wouldn't understand the implications of what local talk show hosts the jurors said they listened to.

Overall, his behavior reinforced the impression I've gotten in the pretrial press coverage. This is the Seattle attorney who is coming to the boondocks to try a case. If that really is the way he's thinking, I suspect he's in for a big surprise. Judge Sedwick has run very tight, but fair, trials. His excusing of the full time student today is an example of his practical understanding of what makes sense and what doesn't. The prosecution has done an overwhelming amount of work and have been extremely well prepared. The teams at the previous two trials were one local attorney and one from the DC based Public Integrity Section. These guys do their homework. The pairing for this trial is Joe Botinni, whose been in the Anchorage US Attorney Office for many years, and Edward P. Sullivan from DC. On the other hand, it does seem that the taped evidence is likely to be not as damaging as in the other cases, and that Kohring might appear to have been less calculating than Kott or Anderson in working out ways to get paid. We will see.


  1. Keep up the comments on the dress of these guys. I have been on juries and I watch everything that the attorneys do. Scruffy looking ones are the ones you have to be most careful of-- they are usually the sleeping cats, like McCavity. You think they aren't paying attention, yet they don't miss a thing. They try to psych each other out more than they try things on the jury. A spiffy lawyer is a man who steals the show.

    I am a woman and I distrust unattractive, unfriendly women. I don't believe a thing that comes out of their mouths. They are the bullies, the former fat girls in junior high who made good and now exercise their angst on people. A woman who doesn't act like a lady has a hard time in front of me, especially if she makes the wittinesses stress out. I will fight her during deliberations without her being in the room. When it comes to lawyers, they have a better chance of winning if the women are people I want to have lunch with and the men become my alpha males. Sexist-but-true.

    Gray is not a good color on a woman. Neither is black.

  2. My past dealings with Kohring have always been cordial. I do know that he is not the nicest person to his staff. His tirades towards them are legendary among staff in Juneau.

  3. Very Interesting,

    Much more insiteful reporting than the ADN.

    Thank you for your efforts, they are appreciated.

  4. I have much more confidence in Alaskan juries recently than I have in the past. I will be watching this trial closely. Thank you for reporting the details. It is very interesting. This judge sounds like a real professional man.

  5. I think that Kohring's trial being right after Kott's is helpful for him. Kott is sheer sleaze.

    I've met Vic at some fundraisers in Town and he is very knowledgeable, extremely likable. I never understood why his wife didn't join him in the Valley though-- the Valley would have loved her and really spruced up his image as being boring.


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