Legal Ethics

Despite Feds' 'Pervasive' Concealment of Evidence, No Contempt Charges in Sen. Stevens Case


Despite a special prosecutor’s finding that a federal prosecution of former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens was “permeated” by the government’s concealment of evidence favorable to the defense, no criminal contempt charges will be brought against the prosecutors involved.

Reiterating what had been leaked earlier by unidentified sources, an order today by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who launched the a two-and-a-half-year investigation by attorney Henry F. Schuelke III, made the result official, the Associated Press reports.

Criminal contempt charges against the prosecutors were not called for, Schuelke found, because Sullivan never explicitly demanded, in a court order, that the government comply with their legal and ethical obligations concerning the revelation of exculpatory evidence to those defending the Republican senator from Alaska in the political corruption case.

“Because the court accepted the prosecutors’ repeated assertions that they were complying with their obligations and proceeding in good faith, the court did not issue a clear and unequivocal order directing the attorneys to follow the law,” Sullivan wrote, explaining his rationale for not explicitly ordering the government to provide exculpatory evidence to the defense.

Absent such a “clear and unequivocal” court ruling by Sullivan, it would not be possible to prove criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt, Schuelke determined. However, his report described “concealment and serious misconduct that was previously unknown and almost certainly would never have been revealed,” Sullivan wrote.

The judge said prosecutors systematically withheld “significant exculpatory evidence” that would have cast doubt on key government witnesses’ credibility in Stevens’ 2009 trial, Bloomberg reports.

The Blog of Legal Times provides a link to Sullivan’s order (PDF) today in the Washington, D.C., case.

The judge promised to make Schuelke’s 500-page report public, after the Department of Justice has had a chance to review it. That is not expected to occur before January 2012.

Stevens died last year in a plane crash.

The Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) also have stories.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com (2009): “For the 2nd Time in Less Than 3 Months, Judge Sullivan Castigates DOJ”

ABAJournal.com (2010): “Report: DOJ Lawyers Won’t Face Criminal Charges Over Sen. Stevens Prosecution”

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