JUNEAU — A man convicted in the 1999 shooting death of a Palmer police officer is not entitled to a new trial, the state appeals court ruled Thursday.
The decision by the three-judge panel reverses a lower court ruling in which a judge found that a default judgment in a civil lawsuit kept Kim Michael Cook from hiring his own attorney for the murder trial. That default judgment, in a wrongful death case by the officer’s estate, resulted in Cook’s assets being frozen.
According to Thursday’s decision, a defense attorney tentatively agreed to represent Cook if he could come up with a $200,000 retainer, but with his assets frozen, he was unable to provide the money. The court refused to set aside the judgment, and he went to trial with a public defender.
His appeal of the judgment was pending when he was convicted of first-degree murder in 2000.
Cook and Palmer police officer James Rowland exchanged gunfire after Rowland approached the parked vehicle in which Cook was sleeping, according to court records. Both men were hit, and the officer died.
Cook was sentenced to 99 years in prison, and is serving his sentence in Colorado.
The Alaska Supreme Court, in 2002, decided Cook could reopen the issue of damages but saw no good reason to set aside the judgment on the issue of Cook’s liability, given his conviction. That case was eventually settled, according to Thursday’s decision, with Cook agreeing to pay the roughly $300,000 that the estate had earlier seized through the default judgment and the estate agreeing to seek no more.
Cook filed a petition seeking a new trial in 2005, claiming he was wrongly denied the right to be represented by an attorney he chose. Superior Court Judge Eric Smith agreed, causing the state to appeal.
Appeals court Judge David Mannheimer, writing for the panel, said the lower court’s refusal to overturn the judgment did not violate Cook’s constitutional rights. Cook’s loss of access to funds “was simply the collateral consequence of rulings made by the superior court in the civil case,” he wrote.
“The superior court’s purpose in issuing these rulings was to adjudicate and enforce the rights of the parties in the civil action,” he wrote. “This was not a situation where a judge in the criminal case issued a ruling that directly prevented Cook from hiring the attorney of his choosing.”
Cook’s attorney, Susan Orlansky, said she was disappointed by the ruling. She said no decision had been made on whether to ask the state Supreme Court to hear the matter but indicated it was a possibility, “unless Kim is willing to accept defeat and quit, which I doubt.”