By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 21, 2008
A federal judge ruled yesterday that Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) will face trial in Washington next month, denying the senator's request to have the case transferred to his home state.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan sided with Justice Department lawyers in ruling that moving the trial to a federal court in Alaska would cause unneeded "delay and additional expense."
Stevens, 84, was indicted last month by a federal grand jury on charges that he failed to report on Senate financial disclosure forms his acceptance of more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from executives of Veco, a now defunct Alaska oil-services company.
His trial is set for Sept. 22. Stevens asked for the unusually early date in an effort to clear his name before the Nov. 4 general election. He faces a primary election Tuesday.
Stevens had hoped to have his trial before a jury in Alaska, which he has represented in the Senate for 40 years, making him the longest-serving Republican senator ever. A tenacious fighter for home-state projects, he enjoys considerable clout in Congress because of his tenure on the Appropriations Committee.
In court documents and at a hearing yesterday, the senator's attorneys argued that a trial in Alaska would be more fair to their client and less of a burden on witnesses and the court. Stevens was not in court.
The lawyers noted that most of the allegations in the indictment focus on renovations to Stevens's house in Girdwood, Alaska. The indictment alleged that Stevens concealed information on his Senate financial disclosure forms about lucrative home renovations and gifts, including a wraparound deck and a Viking gas grill for the home.
"It's all about Alaska," one of his attorneys, Brendan Sullivan, said at a hearing yesterday. "It all happened in Alaska."
Having a trial in Alaska also would make it easier for Stevens to campaign for reelection in September and October, the lawyer argued. He added that that it would be expensive to bring about 40 witnesses from Alaska to Washington for trial.
But Justice Department lawyers argued that many of the events cited in the indictment, including the filing of the financial disclosure statements, occurred in Washington. Stevens has a home here, they said, which will reduce the difficulty he will face standing trial.
With Stevens likely to be campaigning during the trial, a jury in Alaska could be influenced by media coverage of the campaign and case, the lawyers argued. That might force a judge to sequester the jury, argued Nicholas A. Marsh, a lawyer for the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section.
Judge Sullivan sided with the Justice Department, noting that prosecutors, defense lawyers and some witnesses would have to travel to Alaska, which is not as accessible as Washington.
He added that federal judges in Alaska might have to recuse themselves from the case if they had any ties to Stevens, which could force an appeals court to appoint an out-of-state judge to hear the case.