From Erika Bolstad in Washington, D.C. --
The issue of misconduct on the part of Justice Department prosecutors has come up again in Sen. Ted Stevens' corruption trial, this time post-conviction. A day after Stevens was convicted on seven felony counts of lying on his Senate disclosure forms, his chief lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, sent a letter of complaint to Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
Sullivan asks for the Justice Department to "commence a formal investigation into the repeated misconduct by federal prosecutors in connection with this case." They add that the trial was "irretrievably tainted by the prosecution team's zeal to convict a high-profile but innocent defendant." The Justice Department had no comment on the letter.
The accusations stem from three snags during the trial, the first when prosecutors sent home a deathly ill witness they decided not to use -- without telling the judge or the prosecution. Then, the judge ruled that prosecutors knew the hours that one witness said he worked on Stevens' house could be inaccurate and yet still presented it to the jury as part of the $188,000 total that Veco accounting records show the now-defunct oilfield-services company spent on the Stevens remodel. (There was never any evidence presented by the defense that showed Stevens ever paid Veco or its CEO Bill Allen, however.)
"It's very troubling that the government would utilize records the government knows were false," Judge Emmet Sullivan said at the time. "And there's just no excuse for that whatsoever."
Then, prosecutors fumbled and failed to turn over some other evidence that might have been helpful to Stevens' defense. The government is supposed to turn over such evidence, under a 1963 Supreme Court decision that requires prosecutors to let defense attorneys know when they turn up evidence that could help clear a defendant.
There's no question that prosecutors erred, in some cases very badly. But how much of Sullivan's letter to the attorney general is bluster? Sullivan, considered one of the best criminal defense attorneys in Washington, D.C., at times had a team of 10 to 12 lawyers in the courtroom during the trial. Neil A. Lewis of the New York Times noted during the trial that Sullivan's legal team is known for a strategy of aggressively holding prosecutors' feet to the fire on disclosure. Sometimes, it's to the point of getting scolded by judges themselves. In filings by the Justice Department in Stevens' case, Lewis noted that Sullivan "and his team of lawyers had been admonished in 2006 by a federal judge in Connecticut for making unsupported claims in that case that prosecutors had engaged in misconduct."