UPDATE (6:09 p.m.): This is a statement from DOJ on today's events: "The Government has complied with the court's order and produced to defense counsel the documents discussed at today's hearing. We will continue to litigate in court matters related to the jury's conviction of Senator Stevens."
In a status hearing today, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan held four Justice Department lawyers in contempt for failing to turn over 33 documents related to post-trial motions in the case of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who was convicted of corruption charges in October.
The contempt finding was directed at William Welch II, chief of DOJ's Public Integrity Section; Brenda Morris, principal deputy chief of the section and lead prosecutor in the case; trial attorney Kevin Driscoll; and Patricia Stemler, chief of the Criminal Division’s Appellate Section.
The documents in question are part of post-trial discovery motions. They have not been made public, and a DOJ spokeswoman could not characterize their nature. Prosecutors initially withheld the documents under the work product doctrine, but Driscoll said the team later determined the doctrine did not apply.
Sullivan had ordered the prosecution team on Jan. 21 to turn over documents to Stevens' defense lawyers. The Williams & Connolly defense team urged Sullivan to hold the prosecution in contempt for failing to turn over any documents pursuant to that order.
When Driscoll failed to satisfy the judge with an answer as to why the documents weren't turned over, the judge said he was holding the Justice Department lawyers in contempt.
“Is the Department of Justice taking court orders seriously these days?” the judge asked, bewildered.
Driscoll was recently brought into the case to handle post-trial discovery issues related to work-product privilege. Welch called him "invaluable." At the start of the hearing, Driscoll did not initially sit with Welch and Morris at the prosecution table. Morris motioned to Driscoll, who was sitting in the gallery next to Stemler, to come take a seat.
There was a light-hearted moment before the contempt finding in which Sullivan said he was reluctant to interfere with Driscoll's honeymoon, which is scheduled for early April at the same time as a motions hearing in the Stevens case. The judge, at Welch's request, pushed the hearing a week back -- to April 15 -- to accommodate Driscoll.
The contempt holding is the latest chapter in the Public Integrity Section’s misadventure in the case. Sullivan has lambasted prosecutors for a number of violations related to case evidence, witnesses, and a whistleblower complaint filed by an FBI agent accusing prosecutors and another agent of misconduct.
Sullivan said he would not issue sanctions until the conclusion of the case.