Saturday, March 05, 2016

Does Tom Anderson Deserve A New Trial?

Tom Anderson was the first legislator to be convicted in the trials that eventually led to the conviction of US senator Ted Stevens (which was later voided over how the prosecutors handled evidence.)

His attorney was Paul Stockler.  Today's Alaska Dispatch News says Stockler faces possible jail time for not paying over $800,000 in back taxes.  His problems began in earnest in 2006.  He defended Tom Anderson in 2007.  It appears that he was severely distracted when he was defending Anderson.  From the ADN:
"Stockler said that in 2006, the first tax year at issue, he had a lot on his mind. He had been divorced the year before. He was sharing custody of his daughter. He was the lead lawyer in the federal weapons case and other big and complex cases. He was getting notices regarding his 2005 taxes and used that uncertainty as an excuse to delay filing in 2006, then missed one deadline after another, he said in a statement filed in court. 
“I was overwhelmed and felt helpless in dealing with my personal financial obligations beyond immediate living concerns,” he said in a statement filed in court for his sentencing. 
Late in 2006, things got worse when he had to pay back the $1 million through the bankruptcies of Avery and Avery’s Security Aviation company, he said. He didn’t have the money for that and his taxes, he said. “I was embarrassed to admit to anyone that, even though I was a successful attorney, I failed to manage my own life and timely file my tax returns,” Stockler wrote. Mostly, he said, he was disappointed in himself over the kind of example he set for his daughter."

Would Tom Anderson have knowingly hired an attorney who was so overwhelmed with his personal finaciancal problems, his divorce, and taking care of his kid?  Did he give Anderson the best legal defense possible under those circumstances?  (Should attorney's be required to disclose such distractions?  You know that isn't going to happen, and it would be hard to oversee, but when we go to restaurants, we get to see their health department ratings.}

I attended the Anderson trial in summer 2007.  It was my fist real blogging of a public news story.  Here's a post from near the end of the trial that gives some sense of things. Tom had been one of my students and I wanted to see for myself.  Tom made mistakes, but ultimately he was convicted of violating a law that neither he nor most other people even knew existed.  A law that the FBI knew well.  They constructed a sting operation that had all the elements required by the law - a public official, $10,000, and a few other details.   They had Frank Prewitt offer to take out $10,000 in ads in a public policy website Anderson and Bill Bobrick were planning to create.  It would have insider public policy info and people would subscribe to it.   The website never got set up and the prosecutors said it was just a ruse.  But defense convinced me that it was a serious idea, but that Bobrick and Anderson just never got to it, as they never got to other business ideas they had.  But the prosecutors argued the website was just a cover to get Tom $10,000,   The $10.000 is important because its the minimum the law requires for a conviction,  Tom also spoke at a public meeting without disclosing an interest he had in Prewitt's private prison company, though he spoke positively about its competitor as well.  Prewitt went after Anderson, a sitting legislator, trying to get him to do something they could get him on.  Then they wanted him to wear a wire to entrap his fellow legislators.  While Anderson at first agreed, when it came time to go down to Juneau, he didn't feel he could secretly spy on his fellow legislators.  And because he had the moral strength to not spend the session lying to his colleagues, he got the stiffest sentence of all.  That's pretty much what Tom Anderson was sentence to prison for five years over.  (He got off after three years.)

Now his attorney at the time, who, the ADN story tells us, used questionable money from a shady client (whose new trial on misusing $51 million of a trust he was overseeing, is happening right now) and squandered $3 million of it making online stock bets.  And then didn't pay his taxes.

Now, it's possible that Stockler did give Anderson a good defense.  It's what he does well and may have been his escape from all his other problems.  But surely, he would have done a better job if he wasn't distracted by all his person problems.  And he lost the case.

And now Stockler is facing up to two years in prison over $800,000 in back taxes, while Tom was convicted to five years for a $10,000 contribution, he never asked for, to a business that never got off the ground.  Really a technicality.  Many lawyers have told me since, that Tom's penalty was severe as a warning to the other indicted lawmakers so they would cooperate with the FBI and help them catch the bigger fish, Ted Stevens and his son Ben, who never went to trial.

And fellow lawyers are coming to Stockler's defense.  More from the ADN:
"Cabot Christianson, an Anchorage attorney, was on the other side in the Avery bankruptcy case. The settlement of $1.1 million “was an extraordinary sum for a solo practitioner,” Christianson wrote. “While Paul may be a victim of hubris, he is far, far away from being evil, greedy, malicious, or otherwise deserving of severe punishment,” Christianson wrote. Attorney Tim Petumenos said Stockler has been his adversary in court too, yet “his word is gold.” Stockler is hard on himself over his tax troubles and isn’t trying to evade the consequences, Petumenos wrote. Stockler often represents physicians facing medical malpractice complaints or licensing issues. One supporter called him a 'champion of doctors.'”
Lots of generally decent people commit stupid crimes.  They make mistakes, they were at the wrong place at the wrong time, they help friends they shouldn't even be friends with.  They are convicted for that crime, even though it's an aberration.  The Fairbanks Four were convicted that way for a crime they didn't even commit - they were nearby.  But even then, they were pressured into an agreement that would ignore all the misconduct by the court system that got them into prison. But they weren't rich and they weren't white.  Last year we heard story after story of young black men who were tried and convicted on the streets by white (and some non-white) police officers.  They weren't give a chance to have character witnesses speak out for them.  

This is not to say that anyone is better off by Stockler going to prison.  It might be much wiser to come up with sentences where he can use is legal talents to help indigent suspects.  Or to work on justice reforms so 'good' people who make mistakes are treated in ways that help them and society.  Or work for a social system that doesn't condemn some kids to awful childhoods where the odds of them running afoul of the law are very high.

And I doubt Anderson would want to go back to court and drag up all this again in a new trial.  He's served his time and moved on with his life.   But he sure would like his name cleared.

But I thought this was a good opportunity to remind people once again about the unfairness of our justice system.  We've been hearing about innocent people of color running tragically afoul of the law a lot.  This is a reminder of well off white men whose 'good character' an be seen by judges and it helps lessen their sentences.   We should be working for a better system overall which a) prevents kids from getting into crime in the first place and b) offers restorative justice options  c) find resolutions that are less costly to society and the families of victims and perpetrators, d) work to rehabilitate rather than punish criminals, and finally, doesn't throw the convicted into prisons where they are subject to more abuse by other prisoners and guards.  

I'd also note that Frank Prewitt, who made the $10,000 offer to Anderson and Boric, using FBI money, was  cooperating with the FBI because of his ties to the head of a private prison who himself was later convicted and sent to prison.  Stockler raised questions in court about a $30,000 loan to Prewitt, when he was the commissioner of corrections, by the private prison company, Allvest.  Money Prewitt never paid taxes on.  Now I understand why Stockler thought of that angle since he was figuring out how to pay taxes on money that appears not that much different from what Prewitt got.

Prewitt, despite denials at Anderson's trial, was paid $200,000 for his work as the prosecutor's witness.   Without Prewitt, Anderson never would have committed the crime he was convicted of, nor would have have been convicted.

Just thought it was a good idea to think about our justice system this morning.


  1. I read this post. Have you ever used "political cesspool" as a label?

    1. No, but I do have ethics/corruption as a label and your comment reminds me I should have used it on this post. I'll add it.

  2. You are trying to "white wash" very serious corruption and breach of public trust. Wasn't Mr. Anderson a member of the Corrupt Bastards Club"? He took the money. What happened to the money? The business didn't get off the ground, fair enough, but why didn't he simply give the money back? It was a bribe; it was rampant in the Legislature. It was disgusting.

  3. Anon 4:32: No, I'm not trying to whitewash anything. I'm trying put things into perspective. Our justice system often puts the guilty into prison. Sometimes the innocent. Sentences are wildly unequal and unfair. And no, Anderson was NOT a member of the CBC. Though as I google this, it is hard to find an actual list online. Even my post of the trial day when the CBC was brought to public attention didn't have a list of members.
    It wasn't a bribe in the sense that Anderson was asked to do something in return for the money, or that he offered to. It was a payment for ads. You're right in the sense that politicians shouldn't take money from people, but at the time he saw this as a support of this fledgling business, not something related to him as a legislator. Was that naive? Absolutely. But politicians get money for their businesses all the time. And they get campaign contributions. There were a lot of people involved. Some much worse than others.


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