Inexperience and Staffing Problems Plagued Stevens Prosecutors
Posted Apr 13, 2009 9:49 AM CST
By Debra Cassens Weiss
The Justice Department section that prosecuted former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, only to see the charges dismissed, was inexperienced and overwhelmed, observers say.
Defense lawyers and government officials told the Washington Post that the problems were not likely because of political motivations. Rather, the DOJ's Public Integrity Section “miscalculated by not seeking more time to prepare for the high-stakes corruption trial and fell victim to inexperience and thin staffing,” the story says.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan reversed Stevens’ conviction last week and appointed a special prosecutor to pursue a contempt probe against the prosecution team. Stevens said prosecutors withheld evidence and mishandled witnesses.
Sources told the Post that federal prosecutors in the District of Columbia were consulted on the case in 2006 but refused to participate, “thinking that the charges were shaky.” Help from the U.S. Attorney’s Office would have been beneficial since prosecutors there were familiar with Sullivan’s personality, the story says.
Sources also criticized the decision to add the deputy chief of the public integrity section to the case, Brenda Morris, since prosecutors had to spend time getting her up to speed rather than reviewing case documents.
“Last year's compressed trial timeline forced government lawyers to jam their preparations into seven weeks,” the Post says, “and intensified a series of challenges: the late addition of a new lawyer; an aggressive adversary who deluged them with requests for documents; and a skeptical judge whose behavior turned unpredictable, then punitive.”
A New York Times analysis of the case says disclosure of prosecution errors in handing over evidence did little to overcome much of the testimony that Stevens had failed to report gifts he accepted from friends and those seeking to curry favor. The dismissal of charges means prosecutors didn’t play by the rules, and is not a statement that the defendant is innocent, Ohio State law professor Joshua Dressler told the Times.