A federal judge today lifted the civil contempt finding against a senior Justice Department lawyer who participated in the post-conviction proceedings in the Ted Stevens prosecution in Washington.
Judge Emmet Sullivan of Washington federal district court lifted the contempt finding against Patty Stemler, a Criminal Division appellate section supervisor. Stemler was not a lead trial attorney in the Stevens case, and she is not one of the five prosecutors who are under criminal investigation for their role in the public corruption prosecution of Stevens.
Sullivan held Stemler and two other DOJ attorneys, William Welch II and Brenda Morris, in civil contempt at a hearing in February 2009 for the alleged failure to produce certain documents to the court and to the defense attorneys for Stevens. Lawyers for Stemler, represented by Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, have twice filed motions to vacate Sullivan’s finding.
A hearing had been scheduled for Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Sullivan has abandoned the hearing. His order today also removed the civil contempt finding from Welch and Morris, who remain under criminal investigation.
Sullivan today denied Stemler's motion to vacate the contempt finding. Still, he lifted the finding because the government, he said, later “purged the contumacious conduct.” Sullivan said in a 26-page opinion today that he finds it unnecessary to impose sanctions against Stemler.
Stemler, who joined the Stevens case in late 2008, played a "significant and extensive" role in shaping the government's responses to the court, Sullivan said in his ruling. Sullivan said Stemler had an obligation to comply with the court's order to produce certain documents related to an FBI agent's whistleblower complaint that alleges government misconduct.