Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on September 13th, 2010 at 11:59 am
Ski Bowl owner Kirk Hanna.
(Photo: Multnomah County)
Regrettably, I never got to my follow-up on the story about the case of Mt. Hood Ski Bowl owner Kirk Hanna. Thankfully, The Oregonian’s Anna Griffin did, so not only will the case get more attention, but it gives me a nudge to share it as well.
On August 26th, Hanna pleaded guilty to misdemeanor Hit and Run, DUII, and misdemeanor Assault. On May 23rd, Hanna was driving his Porsche Cayenne while drunk at speeds around 80 mph when he hit 45 year-old Robert Skof on SW Macadam and then left him for dead on the side of the road. Luckily, Skof suffered only a slight concussion and a few scrapes.
Hanna’s actions were egregious and Skof could have easily ended up dead, so why did prosecutors only get misdemeanors out of it? Especially given the fact that Hanna has a history of speeding tickets and even a prior DUII charge? As I reported a few weeks ago, Hanna had a trio of attorneys working on his behalf. His lead attorney, John Henry Hingson III, is a legendary criminal defender, so much so that cops I talked to simply referred to him as “John Henry” as if I should know who he is.
Hanna’s attorney’s certainly helped ferry him out of harms way, as any good lawyers should; but this case wasn’t nearly as simple as a wealthy, prominent businessman buying his way out of trouble. Here’s how The Oregonian’s Anna Griffin puts it:
“… this is… more an example of how complicated and consternating our legal system can be. It doesn’t matter what prosecutors and police know in their heart of hearts, just what they can prove in a court of law. Without Hanna’s assistance — however self-serving it might have been — they couldn’t prove anything.”
She’s right. The Portland Police had little to nothing to go on in this case. In fact, the Traffic Investigations Unit didn’t even know about the crash until Hanna’s lawyers went down to the station and delivered the keys to Hanna’s Porsche the morning after the crash. They admitted nothing other than the fact that the car had been involved in a collision. From then on, the case became a chess match between Hanna’s lawyers, the Multnomah County DA’s office, and the police. Or, as Griffin writes, “the lawyers closed the door and began an ethically tricky dance of discovery.”
Both sides played the game. Hanna’s lawyers used their expert knowledge of criminal law and the police tried to leverage unknowns and — like PPB Sgt. Todd Davis said in our story on Aug. 30th — they tried to win the pot with “only a pair of deuces.”
In the end, the didn’t win the entire pot, but at least they won something.
All the police had was a damaged car and some witness statements that lacked key details. Without a confession from Hanna, they had no case. But Hanna’s lawyers didn’t know that. They didn’t know if their client had killed someone that night or if a witness happened to get a good look at their client. If either of those facts were true, Hanna would have been facing a major felony crime.
Even though only getting misdemeanor charges were unsettling for many in the community, the DA’s office and the police successfully leveraged what little they had into an admission of guilt. It’s also important to remember that as part of the compromise plea deal, Hanna has committed to taking care of Skof with a civil settlement. From talking with the DA and Sgt. Davis, this was an amazing result and a huge victory given the circumstances.