Saturday, March 24, 2012

When Robert Bales' Attorney, John Henry Browne, Represented Vic Kohring



John Henry Browne, the attorney now representing Robert Bales, the soldier accused of massacring 17 Afghan civilians, spent several weeks in Anchorage in 2007, representing the third state legislator to go on trial for corruption here, Vic Kohring.  I blogged that trial and so I got to watch him in action.  Of the three trials, he was the only attorney who seemed to attract almost as much attention as his client. 

I have comments about Browne throughout the Kohring posts, but I've pulled out a few here that may give some insight into this attorney.  Or not.

On my first encounter in court October 22, 2007:
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 [Bottini] 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 [and I don't think ever was in court] - 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 [Bottini], who's 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.
By the next day, I'd figured out who Browne reminded me of.  I wrote a post titled, Is John Henry Browne Really Eddie Haskell 50 Years Later? 
 For those of you who didn't watch tv in the 50's and 60's, here's what Wikipedia says about Haskell:
Even today, the phrase "Eddie Haskell" is known to refer to an insincere brown-noser. . .He was known for his neat grooming—hiding his shallow and sneaky character. Typically, Eddie would greet his friends' parents with overdone, good manners and often a compliment such as, "That's a lovely dress you're wearing, Mrs. Cleaver."
Here's a video I made of John Henry Browne after trial on October 30, 2007 with Vic Kohring.





I'd note that the two attorneys he opposed in the Kohring case, Bottini and Sullivan, were among the attorneys found to have concealed evidence from the defense in the Ted Stevens trial.  Was the fact that Browne lost the Kohring case Browne's fault or was it because information was held from him too?  Given the evidence the Prosecutors had, did Kohring ever have a chance?  There were ongoing investigations the prosecutors didn't want made public - Ted Stevens, Jim Clark, and another redacted name (see below).  Then there were the allegations that the Prosecutors' key witness, Bill Allen, had been having sex with an underage girl. 

The Schuelke Report on the Ted Stevens trial shows us the transcript of a sealed hearing among the judge, prosecutors and Browne on October 25, three days after the above post, which shows that Browne was aware of the issues about Allen and Bambi Tyree.  [I'd note that whoever edited the Schuelke report assumed Browne was spelled without the 'e'.  When the Alaska transcript has the 'e' they add [sic].  I can't believe they didn't look it up.  They just assumed, I guess, the Alaska record was wrong.]

During the sealed hearing, Mr. Bottini identified the ongoing investigations of Senator Stevens,❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚ and Jim Clark, the Chief of Staff to Governor Murkowski, as three areas where the cross-examination of Mr. Allen and Mr. Smith by Mr. Brown, the lawyer for Mr. Kohring, should be limited.

.,Transcript of
Sealed Hearing on Plaintiff’s Sealed Motion in Limine
, dated Oct.25, 2007, at 7-8 (DOJ Bates nos. CRM127882-923). During the hearing, Mr.Bottini added another subject, Mr. Allen’s relationship with the “Tyree family”:MR. BOTTINI:. . . The last thing I wanted to say, Your Honor, is that we’re also concerned about whether Mr. Brown is planning on exploring on cross examination any aspect of Mr. Allen’s relationship with certain people. And primarily what we’re concerned about is whether he’s going to try and cross examine Mr. Allen about his relationship with any member of the Tyree family. This is an issue that we keep hearing, you know, rumors about. And I want to - -
THE COURT:But how would that tie into the concern for compromising an on-going investigation?
MR. BOTTINI:Well, it’s sort of a different area and I think it’s - - it would be totally improper cross examination under Rule608(b).
THE COURT:It might be and I - - while I have to hear from Mr.Brown, but I don’t think that’s something we need to hear on a sealed record, is it?
MR. BOTTINI:I think it is something that we need to talk about on a sealed record because what we’re concerned about is that Mr. Browne [sic] may be planning to cross examine Mr.Allen about a relationship that he allegedly had with someone who was a juvenile at the time, and I think Ms.Tyree’s got, you know, certain issues and rights to not have that discussed on an open record.
THE COURT:All right, so your concerns are the ❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚, the ❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚❚ and Ms. Tyree?
MR. BOTTINI:Yes . . .* * *
THE COURT:All right. Mr. Browne [sic], I’d like to hear from you, sir, regarding whether you had anticipated or feel you have any need to cross examine these individuals regarding any of those three areas.
MR. BROWNE [sic]:. . . I will, more because of the gentleman, I suppose, than anything else, I’m not going to go into anything about juvenile relationships - -
THE COURT:All right, so the - -
MR. BROWNE [sic]:- - to me that’s completely - -
THE COURT:- - the type - - MR. BROWNE [sic]:- - that’s - - to me, whether that’s true or not I have no idea, and, two, it’s amazingly tacky and I would not do that.THE COURT:All right, well, enough said, and I don’t think it would advance Mr. Kohring’s interests in any event.

People in Anchorage were not much impressed with Browne.   It was hard for people to understand how Kohring was paying for this out-of-town celebrity attorney.  The bill was, rumor had it, at least $100,000 and testimony showed Kohring broke.  We knew Browne liked high profile cases.  He'd defended Ted Bundy and would go on to defend the Barefoot Bandit.


Just before the Kohring case went to trial, Kohring was injured in an accident when John Henry Browne ran a stop sign.   At the time I was wondering whether there wasn't some sort of conflict of interest here.  He's being represented by a man who potentially owes him damages for the accident.  How's that going to play out?  In 2009, Kohring sued Brown over the accident and Browne withdrew as his attorney. 
 

One of the interesting aspects of blogging is how old posts sometimes gain new relevance, such as the material on Browne.    The other day I got a lot of hits on a post I did in 2008 about a speech on the future of newspapers given in Anchorage by McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt who has just become the head of Associated Press (AP).  (McClatchy owns the Anchorage Daily News.)   Media blogger Jim Romenesko found my post and linked to it on his early announcement of the AP appointment.

And now John Henry Browne is back in the news defending Robert Bales.   

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