Judge releases current, former lawmakers on bail

Judge questions Weyhrauch's health following boating accident

Posted: Sunday, May 06, 2007

With hands cuffed behind their backs, two former lawmakers and an acting representative were escorted into the courtroom on the ninth floor of the Federal Building in downtown Juneau over the course of Friday afternoon.

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Former Reps. Bruce Weyhrauch and Pete Kott pleaded not guilty to charges of extortion, bribery and fraud, and Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, pleaded not guilty to four counts of extortion and bribery.

U.S. Magistrate John Roberts informed them of the maximum penalties they could face if convicted, including a total of 55 years in prison each and a $1 million fine. All were released on unsecured $20,000 bail.

Before releasing Weyhrauch, the judge asked about his health. The Juneau attorney and community leader recently spent a hypothermic night on Coghlan Island after falling out of a boat into the 43-degree waters of Auke Bay, provoking a massive search.

"I do have some concerns based on the recent traumatic experience Mr. Weyhrauch had while boating," Roberts said. He offered Weyhrauch professional help.

The court scheduled a trial for July 9 in Anchorage, although Kott's attorney said the date was "probably unrealistic."

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Goeke said there is "voluminous" discovery material, most of it electronic. He was allowed one week to turn over most of it to defense attorneys, with all of it due in two weeks.

Kott, wearing khaki pants and a blue jacket, was escorted into the courtroom first.

He responded to each of the four counts against him with the statement, "Your honor, not guilty."

The 57-year-old Republican former House Speaker from Eagle River laughed slightly when asked his age, and seemed to choke up when he told the court the ages of his adult children. The judge let him keep a firearm but asked for his passport.

Kott has no criminal record, officials said. He had been arrested at his home.

After Kott was released, officials escorted Weyhrauch into the courtroom. Weyhrauch, who turned himself in earlier in the day, was wearing a red sweatshirt and jeans. He said "not guilty" when the charges against him were read.

He had no passport to give up, and he agreed to not leave Alaska without permission.

Roberts told Weyhrauch's attorney he was interested in Weyhrauch's health because of his standing in the community. Weyhrauch did not respond.

Weyhrauch, 54, a Juneau attorney and former Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was set free after being processed by the Justice Department.

Before Weyhrauch left, Roberts urged the attorneys to be careful about discussing the case with the media.

"Let's try this case in the courtroom, not in the press," Roberts said.

Kohring, R-Wasilla, was arraigned last. Like Kott and Weyhrauch, he was escorted into the courtroom in handcuffs. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on an unsecured $20,000 bail, officials said.

• Ken Lewis can be reached at ken.lewis@juneauempire.com.

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