Judge Emmet Sullivan said today that in his 25 years on the bench, he had never seen anything approaching the "mishandling and misconduct" perpetrated by the government in the case of former Alaskan Sen. Ted Stevens, who was convicted on corruption charges in October.
At a hearing today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on the government's motion to dismiss, Sullivan said Stevens' case was symptomatic of a larger trend of misconduct. The Judge urged his colleagues around the country to enter exculpatory evidence orders at the outset of every criminal case, and to require that exculpatory material be turned over in a usable form.
The Judge said Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. should train new and veteran prosecutors on the rules of evidence. He further suggested that President Barack Obama obtain the commitment of prospective U.S. attorneys to abide by these rules, and that the Senate Judiciary Committee push nominees on this point during confirmation hearings.
"We must never forget the Supreme Court's directive that a criminal trial is a search for the truth. Yet in several cases recently, this court has seen troubling failures to produce exculpatory evidence in violation of the law and this court's orders," Sullivan said.
Holder moved to dismiss the case last week, finding that prosecutors had failed their obligation to turn over prosecutors notes to the Stevens' Williams & Connolly defense team. Judge Sullivan repeatedly reprimanded prosecutors throughout the trial -- for releasing a witness, failing to turn over key documents to the defense, and presenting false testimony. The Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the handling of the case.
The original trial team included Brenda Morris, principal deputy chief of the Public Integrity Section, PIN prosecutors Edward Sullivan and Nick Marsh, and assistant U.S. attorneys James Goeke and Joseph Bottini. They were replaced in February, after Judge Sullivan held Morris and two other lawyers -- William Welch II, the Public Integrity Section chief, and Patricia Stemler, the chief of the Criminal Division’s Appellate Section -- in contempt for violating two court orders related to an FBI whistle-blower complaint. Sullivan said he would handle any sanction at the conclusion of the case.
The new team of Justice lawyers, Paul O’Brien, David Jaffe, and William Stuckwisch, were preparing for an April 15 status hearing when they found notes from two prosecutors taken during an interview in April 2008 of the government’s chief witness, Bill Allen, a longtime Stevens friend and wealthy oilman in Alaska. The notes contradicted testimony Allen gave at trial regarding the value of renovations on Stevens’ chalet and to what extent Stevens was billed for the work. Stevens, who maintained he paid for all the work at his home for which he received bills, was accused of failing to report more than $250,000 in home repairs and gifts on his Senate disclosure forms. The new information could have been used to undercut Allen’s credibility at trial.
O'Brien said that after the notes were found, the government knew it was faced with either retrying Stevens or dismissing the case with prejudice. Holder opted for the latter last Tuesday.
"We deeply, deeply regret that this occurred," O'Brien told the judge.
Judge Sullivan has ordered the government to provide him with all material gathered post-trial and produced Stevens, as well as any exculpatory evidence, witness interviews, 302s, and affidavits related to a FBI whistle-blower complaint, alleging a range of misconduct in the case. The judge has also ordered the government to preserve all records related to the Stevens investigation and prosecution.