February 09, 2011
Kabot: Grateful, Vindicated
"Most people probably feel they should take a plea, and get on with their lives. But I'm not most people. I'm Linda Kabot."
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In the first interview since her acquittal on drunk driving charges late last Friday, former Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot spoke with The Independent about the jury's decision, the trial, losing her re-election bid, and what life has been like since her Labor Day, 2009, arrest.
Kabot was in the middle of a campaign for re-election and preparing to send her oldest son off to college when she was pulled over on Main Street in Westhampton Beach late on the night of Sunday, September 6. She was arrested just after midnight on Labor Day.
Almost immediately after news the supervisor was in custody spread, rumors of a police set up began to circulate. Key figures in the supposed set up – then-Southampton Town PBA president Patrick Aube and then-councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, Kabot's opponent, refuted the notion of a set up designed to sway the outcome of the pending election. At the time, Kabot was battling with the PBA over the proposed termination of six officers.
In response to queries by The Independent, Aube adamantly denied contacting Throne-Holst during the predawn hours that Monday morning. Throne-Holst, who went on to best Kabot in the bid for town supervisor, even ran radio campaign ads dismissing the notion of involvement in a set up.
Evidence presented at trial painted a different picture. Loathe to use the phrase "set up" herself, Kabot said Saturday that subpoenaed phone and text records from local officers and Throne-Holst, plus police testimony and even a video tape of the arrest and roadside sobriety tests raised reasonable doubt. Defense attorney Bill Keahon simply told the jury to "connect the dots," she said. Obviously, Kabot continued, the arrest "was political in nature and there was more to the story than people realized."
Phone records revealed "a lot of use of cell phone and text messages" during the time the police were initially following Kabot's car through Westhampton Beach, at the stationhouse before she was fingerprinted and a mug shot taken, and before she was even able to make her own phone call to her husband Lance. Reporters from area publications were called by police and Throne-Holst during those early morning hours before Kabot was even booked, the phone records revealed.
Although the defense never asked specifically whether officers called in Kabot's plates while they were following her, testimony during the trial last week showed police have the capability to do so and that the audio inside the patrol car was turned off during the follow despite a directive from the police chief Ray Dean to the contrary. Officer Steve McManus admitted on the stand that he was on the phone during the follow.
Texts and a nine minute phone call at one in the morning between Aube and then candidate Throne - Holst were part of a series of calls and texts that were "all very questionable and raises eyebrows, bringing in the concept of reasonable doubt," Kabot said this weekend.
A video of police following the defendant's 2006 Toyota, giving her roadside sobriety tests and subsequently handcuffing her, not to mention missing footage of the tape, ultimately played to Kabot's advantage. Cops say they turned off the tape because they wanted to double check that it was functioning; Keahon was able to bring out that there hadn't been any problem to prompt such a doublecheck in the past.
Keahon took police witnesses through "all indicia of intoxication," Kabot related. They admitted on the stand that the former lawmaker didn't slur her speech or need assistance getting out of her car, or exhibit the classic array of symptoms of inebriation, suggesting, Kabot said, "Everything was trumped up."
After five days of testimony, the jury deliberated about 90 minutes Friday afternoon before returning with the not guilty decision. That evening jury forewoman Deborah Rensing told Newsday she and her colleagues didn't find police testimony "credible." Kabot was found guilty of failing to stop at a stop sign.
"Sometimes the underdog wins," the former supervisor observed Saturday. "I'm grateful for the decision and to see this matter come to a closure."
"This was about my name and my honor," she continued. "I wanted to reclaim my name. I felt defamed."
Looking back over the period of time following the arrest, Kabot recalled the failed re-election bid. Though she ended the race with a respectable percentage of votes, she opined, "My numbers were good, but it was tainted with all the controversy." One TV news station ran footage of her arrest "every half hour" on Election Day, she remembered.
Following the defeat, Kabot continued on as supervisor, leaving her office for the last time at 9 PM on December 31. She felt confident she left affairs in good order for Throne-Holst. "I didn't have to look back and could move on comfortably into the arms of my husband and family."
When not occupied with pre trail motions and activities -- the case was heard in Riverhead Town Court after it was decided a change of venue was warranted -- Kabot settled into the life of a stay at home wife and mother.
After 14 years in public service, "I was able to recharge my batteries," she said. The former lawmaker learned how to run a one-income household, clipping coupons, cutting back on luxuries, and making lifestyle changes. "I couldn't work," she noted, pointing to the loss of drivers license spurred by her refusal to take a Breathalyzer test during the arrest, along with the ever-present spectre of the looming trial, as obstacles to finding employment.
The opportunity to spend time with Lance and her three sons was a silver lining, she agreed. She attended all her youngest son's little league games and focused on her own well being, losing 42 pounds and taking long walks for exercise. "I weigh what I weighed when I graduated college," the 43-year-old Mom reported. Stress-related symptoms dissipated and "I'm healthy now."
Healthy enough to continue a political career? Ready to launch a lawsuit seeking a healthy settlement for wrongful arrest? Kabot declined to comment on either potential future. For now, she said simply, "I feel vindicated."
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