Thursday, April 09, 2009

Judge dismisses Stevens' conviction

U.S. District Court Judge Emmett Sullivan dismissed the conviction of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (R) noting, "In nearly 25 years on the bench, I've never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I've seen in this case." the stunning and public rebuke was made against prosecutors in the Justice Department's Public Integrity Unit (yes, you read that right). Judge Sullivan has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the handling of the Steven's case because he thinks the matter too important and too egregious to be left to an internal investigation.

Key evidence and procedural missteps doomed the prosecution team.
Judge Sullivan repeatedly scolded prosecutors for their behavior during trial. After the verdict, an FBI whistleblower accused the team of misconduct and Sullivan held prosecutors in contempt for ignoring a court order.

The prosecution team was replaced and, last week, the new team acknowledged that key evidence was withheld. That included notes from an interview with the government's star witness, contractor Bill Allen.

On the witness stand, Allen said a mutual friend told him not to expect payment for Stevens' home renovations because the senator only wanted the bill to cover himself. It was damaging testimony that made Stevens look like a scheming politician trying to conceal his freebies.

But in the previously undisclosed meeting with prosecutors, Allen had no recollection of such a discussion. And he valued the renovation work at far less than what prosecutors alleged at the trial.

Because the investigation and trial took place on the George W. Bush watch, the Obama Administration supporters and lefty blogger will say it is another example of Bush ineptitude, but keep in mind two things:

1. Most Public Intergrity Unit prosecutors are career civil servants (the top people are usually appointed but the day to day lawyers are usually careerists.)
2. The prosecutors misbehavior led to a conviction. It is not like they threw the case to save a Republican, they convicted the guy through cheating.

What Judge Sullivan did was absolutely right. Stevens' defense team had an absolute right to see all the evidence, particuarly exculpatory evidence. The prosecutors didn't do it and the result is that the conviction had to be overturned. That is not to say that Stevens isn't guilty of something and he clearly failed to obey the Senate's own rules. But the rule of law must control and it didn't here.

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