It can’t be easy being a prosecutor in the Public Integrity Section these days. For the second time in less than a week, a federal judge has sanctioned Justice Department prosecutors for impropriety in the trial of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. But this time around, jurors will hear about the misconduct.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan this afternoon blasted government lawyers for, among other things, knowingly presenting false evidence to jurors—financial records related to renovation work at the Stevens home in Alaska. A worker who billed hours was not in Alaska at the time indicated on the records.
“Maybe we’re at a point that a mistrial is the less severe sanction,” Judge Sullivan said today. But in the end—just like last week, when the judge found Justice lawyers committed a Brady violation—Judge Sullivan did not declare a mistrial and did not dismiss charges against Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate.
Judge Sullivan plans to tell jurors Thursday—when the panel returns for the start of the defense case—that prosecutors knowingly presented false information at trial and violated their obligation to produce evidence to the defense. The jurors were given the afternoon off today and were not in court to hear Judge Sullivan’s criticism.
The lead prosecutor, Brenda Morris, principal deputy chief in the Public Integrity Section, blamed mistakes on the fast pace of the trial. At his arraignment, Stevens said he wanted to wrap up the case before the November election. "Counsel, the accelerated pace should never deprive someone of his fair day in court,” Judge Sullivan said. Fairness, the judge said, should never be sacrificed for expediency.
At trial, government lawyers presented accounting records of the renovations at the Stevens home—Stevens is accused of not reporting the work on Senate financial disclosure forms—without informing the jury that an employee’s billed hours were false. “The team knew it was not true. It was a lie,” Judge Sullivan said. As a sanction, Judge Sullivan is striking government evidence, specifically the financial records of two employees of VECO, the former oil services company, because of the government’s misrepresentation.
Judge Sullivan is also striking from the record testimony about a car deal between Stevens and his longtime friend Bill Allen, former president of VECO. The evidence about the car transaction—a deal that was not charged in the seven-count indictment—goes to intent, prosecutors say. The judge said government lawyers intentionally withheld evidence—a copy of a check—from the defense team.
Prosecutors have told jurors about how Stevens traded a Mustang convertible and $5,000 to Allen in exchange for his Land Rover. Justice Department lawyers say the deal was too good to be true. Williams & Connolly lawyers grilled Allen on the amount he originally paid for the Land Rover—apparently unaware that the government had in its possession Allen’s check. The defense may not have spent time exploring that payment if it had received a copy of the check in discovery, Judge Sullivan said.