Judge Calls For Special Prosecutor In Stevens' Case
A federal judge today set aside a jury's guilty verdict and the indictment against former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, then announced he was appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the government attorneys in the case for failing their constitutional duties to ensure a fair trial.
"In 25 years on the bench, I've never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I've seen in this case," U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said Tuesday, in dismissing the trial based on recently discovered pre-trial interviews with a star witness that contradicted his trial testimony.
Withholding materials that could be helpful to criminal defendants has become a troubling Justice Department trend, Sullivan said, citing Stevens' case and that of a Guantanamo detainee who fought to have his medical records released to his lawyers.
Sullivan made his decision to set aside the corruption charges at the request of Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced last week that the Justice Department would move to dismiss the indictment against Stevens after Justice Department attorneys handling the post-trial motions in the case discovered that the trial team failed to turn over to Stevens' lawyers notes from a April 15, 2008, interview conducted with the star prosecution witness in the case.
Holder said an internal investigation had been launched into the matter, but Judge Sullivan said he was not content to allow the Justice Department's probe to serve as punishment for the lawyers involved in the case. He said he had asked a former military judge, Henry Schulke III of Washington D.C., to investigate the conduct of five prosecutors in the case for potential obstruction of justice.
They are: the head of the Justice Deparment's Public Integrity Section, William Welch; the lead trial attorney, Brenda Morris; two trial attorneys in the Public Integrity Section, Nicholas Marsh and Edward Sullivan; and two assistant U.S. Attorneys in Alaska, Joseph Bottini and James Goeke.
"I have not pre-judged these attorneys for their culpability, and I hope the record will find no intentional obstruction of justice," Judge Sullivan said.
We can hope there is no intentional obstruction of justice involved here, but what other excuse could there possibly be? The ethics in law, and the rules in law, are quite simple when it comes to a court case. Both sides get access to the same information. They get the exculpatory evidence as well as the condemning evidence. That is how a case is built. The prosecutors try to provide doubt to any evidence that could clear a charged individual, and the defense tries to poke holes in the evidence the prosecution brings forth that damns their client.
In this case, it is clear that Justice Department attorneys purposefully kept evidence from the defense that they knew would aid in the defense of Senator Stevens thereby damning their own case against him. There is no excuse for this other than this was deliberately done for political reasons.
Thomas and I absolutely disagree with Governor Palin's call on Senator Begich to step down and face a special election. Yes, the election was close, and yes Senator Stevens' prosecution was definitely a factor in his loss. However, the election was more than fair, and both men waged good campaigns. Senator Begich beat Senator Stevens fair and square. There is no use crying over spilled milk, and her call to Senator Begich to step down disturbs us. This is especially true in her glowing words for a man who delivered pork to the state of Alaska after she railed on the campaign trail for fiscal responsibility. Not to put too fine a point on it, but those fawning words now seem a bit hypocritical on her part. I should add that while we disagree with her on this particular point, this in no way changes our opinion of her as a competent chief executive, and a rising star in the Republican party.
What Thomas and I do agree on is the fact that the attorneys in the Justice Department acted improperly and unethically. We believe in the rule of law. While Thomas lacks the professional education, he has a sharp mind when it comes to the law. I am going through the formal education process to become a lawyer, and when things like this occur it is sad; it makes me question whether or not I really want to be a lawyer if this sort of prosecutorial abuse is commonplace within the field of lawyers. I cite the Duke lacrosse case as the most blatant example of prosecutorial misconduct that I am aware of. I should note that Mr. Nifong was not a Justice Department attorney, but his overreach and abusive mishandling of the case cost him his job. If that is the case with these five attorneys, they should suffer the same fate: Loss of job, and immediate disbarment.