The other day, I asked longtime friend and Vic Kohring advocate Fred James to either write a guest post for Progressive Alaska on Vic's current situation, or to ask Vic to write one himself. Today, Vic called me. We talked a bit, and I urged him to finish an essay he had already been polishing. I told him I'd be happy to print it, as I received it. He sent it this evening, appending the essay with his closing remarks from last Thursday's sentencing:
The media as a whole, with a few exceptions, has been a lynch mob and will not be satisfied until I'm in prison. My innocence matters little to them. Some folks have tried to be open minded and look at things objectively, for which I'm grateful, because in reality our government had no interest in seeking truth and justice. The prosecutors goal was to nail a politician and get another notch on their belt. They were aided by Judge John Sedwick who made numerous rulings, all against me, making it impossible for the jury to have complete information which would have cleared my name. I was warned right after last fall's trial began that Sedwick has a reputation for being pro government and pro prosecutor, and his conduct in court certainly reflected that. As a judge, he is tasked with running a fair and open trial so that justice is done, not constantly impeding the process. It was a real eye opener and very frustrating as I naively believed judges were honest. What a rude awakening.
One of Sedwick's most egregious decisions was to preside over my trial. He had a blatant conflict of interest because of the battles I fought with his wife. As much as the media has downplayed the matter, twisted the facts and omitted crucial information in their typical way, there was real animosity between Deborah Sedwick and myself occurring over a two year period. Judge Sedwick turned down my motion a few weeks ago (the latest among a substantial number of motions I filed since last year) asking for a new trial because of his conflict. He glossed over the requirement by federal law to remove himself from a case if a "reasonable person" could possibly perceive a conflict. Instead, his response addressed irrelevant issues that distracted the reader from the fact that he violated federal law. His words were misleading. I sponsored legislation that eliminated his wife's job and cut literally millions of dollars from her budget while she was Commissioner of the Department of Commerce, to her strenuous objection. I was chairman of the budget subcommittee which authorized funding for her department. She was appointed to a new position after my bill became law, but did not know she would be appointed to the newly merged department until mid 1999. Before then, all she knew was that I was working hard to eliminate her prestige and power and job as the highest salaried commissioner in state government (over $110,000.00/year in salary and benefits). In fact, she was subjected to the stress of her job being eliminated for the 1-1/2 years I worked on my bill and opposed me every step of the way. Yet Judge Sedwick says he has no knowledge of these significant and dramatic events and never discussed with his wife her difficulties encountered because of me. That's unrealistic. Spouses naturally discuss their problems with each other, particularly when one's job is being threatened. The Anchorage Daily News and Channel 2 News purposely omits this information to keep me from appearing credible. In addition, Judge Sedwick lives directly across the street from Bill Allen, the government's primary witness relied on heavily to convict me. They have lived next to each other for about six years according to records with the State Division of Elections. Their houses are 65 feet apart. If any one of the jurors admitted to similar connections, they would have immediately been removed from the case. The judge was very clear in his set of instructions during the jury selection process. Yet he himself did not follow his own rules. As mentioned, he is required by federal law to excuse himself from a trial simply if a perception or appearance of a conflict exists. That's all. The standard is low and precise. Sedwick went far beyond perception or appearance as there was an actual conflict--and a substantial one as I documented in my motion. Deborah Sedwick and I were major political and philosophical opponents for years which evolved into personal animosity. My evidence documenting this includes affidavits from three people (filed with the court with my motion) who personally witnessed the antagonism. There are other witnesses too who've since stepped forth.
During the trial, I reached the point where I sensed I had no chance to win because of the judge's hostile, angry attitude and multitude of rulings against me. He made it impossible to succeed by literally controlling the entire proceedings to his benefit. I now realize he was trying to protect himself, not create an environment that would allow my innocence to be proven. He ruled against me on change of venue, habit evidence, suppression of evidence, FBI interference, closed hearing and many more. I've been informed it was highly unusual for a judge to reject every single request, especially considering all were reasonable and solidly backed up with case law. Sedwick's rulings eventually caused me to wonder if he had something personal against me. I concluded it was because I am a conservative Republican and a long-time vocal advocate of less government. I could think of nothing else at the time. I've also been told my philosophy likely made me an automatic target of the government and motivated them to focus on me. Then I learned after the trial that Sedwick is married to one of my biggest political and personal opponents. I wouldn't have learned of this had not Deborah Sedwick showed up at the end of the trial. If she had stayed away, I probably would not have known to this day. My initial reaction was to ask, why is one of my biggest enemies at my trial? Was she there to gloat? It was astonishing.
Mrs. Sedwick was reluctant to shake my hand when I extended it while attempting to greet her during a break in the trial. She was speaking with two other people ten feet from the courtroom doors at the time. She glared at me as if she wanted to grab me by the throat. She clearly was still angry after all these years. I felt like telling her to "Get over it. Get a life," but stayed silent. Judge Sedwick said nothing of his marriage to Deborah during the trial, despite being required by the Judicial Code of Conduct to declare any conflicts including those involving family members and spouses. Of all people, he should know of this law better than anyone as he is the Chief Judge of the entire U.S. District Court in Alaska. The law is very clear. In addition, three federal judges reviewed my conflict of interest motion and concluded that without a doubt, Sedwick should have removed himself from the case and granted me a new trial. Instead of insisting another judge do so, he himself ruled on my motion a few weeks ago requesting his removal and a new trial. Despite his substantial conflict, Judge Sedwick ruled himself blameless. It was unbelievable. Then he himself administered my sentence this week. I honestly thought he would have another judge do so given his conflicts of interest. By not removing himself, I was then left to wonder if his sentence reflected the antagonistic relationship between his wife and myself. I will wonder for the rest of my life if my years in prison is pay back.
Yet another of Sedwick's numerous rejected motions occurred this week. He ruled against my motion to allow a juror to be questioned in court by my lawyer. As it turned out, the jury gave no credence to the government's many false allegations including my nephew's summer internship, request for a personal loan (never received) and request to borrow a pick up truck (never received) as they were not proven. The jury only considered the thousand dollars in gifts for my daughter. Nothing more. Everything boiled down to this one item. I was told that even this one was shaky as it was based on a video taped comment by Bill Allen while in a drunken state. The sentence therefore should have been based on the one item (daughter gifts) as opposed to the sum total of everything. The judge's decision on my motion blocked this crucial information from being presented in court and he consequently based his sentence on the fictitious larger number instead of the thousand. Of course the media ignores this despite my reference to it in my sentencing remarks (see below) and my press conference.
Instead of a sentence which should have involved no time, I'm going to prison for years. Note how former Fairbanks Mayor Jim Hayes received five and a half years by the same judge (Sedwick) last week involving the theft of $450,000.00, versus my three and a half years for a thousand dollars in gifts for my daughter, a tiny fraction of money in comparison and no bribes involved. It's an incredible double standard.
In addition, the liberal media savaged me throughout my years in the legislature. I became a constant target because I bucked the trend to increase government. They obviously picked up the pace when my office was raided by five armed FBI agents in 2006 and did their best to try and convict me before my trial even began, regardless of the truth. They behaved like blood thirsty jackals. There were 14 months of non-stop hostile reporting which I'm certain tainted the jury pool. If I could sue these people for slander I would. Yet the judge rejected my request to have the trial moved outside Alaska. It was a very reasonable request. I presented Sedwick with a mountain of evidence (hundreds of photo copies) demonstrating the media bias. He didn't even explain his decision other than to say I can get a fair trial and "sees no problem." His lack of concern was astounding. In another case in Alaska, Joshua Wade was granted a change of venue by a same U.S. District Court judge despite far less media coverage. Judge Sedwick's colleague on the bench ruled that the change was vital as the media prevented Wade from getting a fair trial here. Yet Sedwick denied my request despite ten times the coverage. Another double standard.
I remain optimistic I will prevail on appeal. I truly believe if I can get a trial in a different location where the jury pool hasn't been tainted and a judge with no personal ax to grind, I would easily be exonerated. I was told the jury last fall initially voted 10 to 2 to find me innocent on all charges despite the judge working overtime against me instead of being open-minded and trying to facilitate a fair process. They ended up being swayed by a very vocal and opinionated jury foreman who is a federal government retiree, the type of people who nearly always opposed me.
Last, I readily admit it wasn't a good idea for me to accept gifts from a long time friend of 14 years--at least one who I thought was a friend until he stabbed me in the back with his lies on the stand. But gifts are not illegal and there were absolutely no bribes involved and no intent to commit a crime whatsoever. I wouldn't even know how to commit such a crime if I wanted to. This situation never should have risen to the level of a crime and no charges should have been filed. I've had to fight the prosecution's manipulations, the lying of witnesses, a biased judge with a huge personal conflict and a probation office that wrote an erroneous pre-sentence report full of unproven allegations (which the judge used to further justify his sentence). This entire scenario made it impossible to win. It was a true witch hunt. However I go to prison with my chin up and a clear conscience, so I'm going to be fine, especially with the knowledge that I have a strong case for appeal. If I have to defend myself from a prison cell, so be it. I look forward to being cleared and serving my community once again.
May 13, 2008
Honorable Judge Sedwick,
I stand before you not to plead for mercy as others have done before me. Instead, I'm here to proclaim my innocence. I don't believe I received a fair trial last fall which is why I did not prevail in this court room.
I was stunned when I learned after the trial you are married to one of my biggest personal and political enemies from my years as a legislator, who showed up at this very court at the end of my trial. Federal law and the Judicial Code of Conduct required you to excuse yourself from my case even if a perception of a conflict existed and to avoid the appearance of partiality that might reasonably be questioned. You judged yourself blameless despite a mountain of evidence documenting the antagonistic relationship between your wife and myself occurring over a two-year period. Furthermore, you live directly across the street from the government’s star witness who was heavily relied upon to convict me. Your houses are just 65 feet apart. You did not speak one word of these conflicts and I knew nothing of them until after the trial. I’m so disappointed that the very person who now holds my fate in his hands--you--is married to the person who’s job I eliminated and who’s budget I cut millions of dollars from and developed personal animosity. There’s no way this could not be viewed as a conflict by any reasonable person. I now stand before you waiting to be sentenced to prison and will forever wonder if your sentence will be because of the battles I fought with your wife. That is incredibly unfair.
There is something I will admit. I exercised poor judgment when accepting cash gifts for my daughter form a longtime friend--or at least someone I genuinely believed was a friend until he betrayed and turned against me. I will also admit I did not live up to my personal standards and expectations of my community. So I apologize to all who expected me to set a higher ethical standard. It may not have been right, but in no way were bribes involved. There were no criminal acts and I absolutely had no intention to commit any crime whatsoever.
My words, “Let me know what I can do to help; my door is always open to you; feel free to give me a call anytime” was my mantra as a legislator, words I spoke thousands of times in the course of doing my job. It’s ironic that these very words have now been used against me by the government to erroneously claim they represented a bribe. My words and frequent offer of help were genuine and heartfelt and intended simply to be a good representative--not anything corrupt. Unfortunately, your ruling on Habit Evidence prevented my supporters from testifying on this issue. I had a list of 82 people willing to testify on my behalf who were turned away.
The resulting conviction has destroyed me. I am bankrupt and penniless, my house is in foreclosure, I’ve lost my job and career, my wife is divorcing me and I’m losing my family. The total cost to me including lost wages is approaching a half million dollars. But my spirit is not broken and I remain strong.
My attorney and I attempted to conduct ourselves during the trial with integrity. There was no lying, manipulation or taking things out of context as was done against me--just an honest presentation of the facts. I do not lie to anyone at any time. I used to believe in my government. I swore to uphold and protect the principles of our country and constitution as a legislator, but do not respect those who manipulated it.
I must follow my conscience and stand up for my rights even if I have to pay a price. I refuse to cower before you in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence, and I know I’m risking retribution by standing my ground as I’m subjecting myself to this court’s wrath. But I shouldn't have to fear retribution by defending myself. I simply can’t in good conscience express remorse for something I did not do. I intend to continue vigorously fighting for my rights and eventually prove my innocence, but will only be exonerated if I receive a fair trial with a fair judge. The truth will only be revealed if my case is heard before jurors untainted by bias and if all evidence is provided the jury.
I want to thank the jury and sincerely appreciate their efforts but wish to let them know they did not have all the relevant informant needed to determine my innocence. I must continue defending myself and go through the appeal process, even if it means doing so from a prison cell. I beseech everyone in this state who believes in truth and justice to join me in insisting that our government treats its citizens with honor and decency. I for one shall not rest until justice prevails.
If I had committed wrong doing, I would admit it and accept punishment. But my conscience is clear. I did nothing criminal. I was a little naive, I will admit to that. I must assert my innocence as I owe it to my family and friends and the thousands of people who elected me to the Alaska Legislature, all of whom I sincerely thank for their support. All I ask for is to be treated fairly and be given an opportunity for a fully open and fair trial which I’m convinced would result in my exoneration.
May 8, 2008
image of Vic Kohring by Dennis Zaki