By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Six Justice Department prosecutors will no longer participate in key legal proceedings involving former senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who was convicted last year on corruption charges.
The unusual step was disclosed in court papers Monday.
The move follows a hearing last week in which U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan held four prosecutors in contempt for failing to give defense attorneys documents concerning allegations of misconduct by members of the government's legal team.
The Justice Department says the prosecutors will no longer be part of legal proceedings dealing with the allegations. They will continue to play a role in other post-trial legal issues, however.
Laura Sweeney, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said, "It was determined that this was the appropriate action." She declined to comment further.
Brendan Sullivan, the lead attorney on Stevens's team, has a policy of not commenting to the media.
Federal prosecutors have angered Judge Sullivan on several occasions. During the trial, he chastised them several times over their handling of evidence and at least one witness.
The latest legal wrangling stems from efforts by Stevens's team to have his conviction tossed in light of the misconduct allegations, made by an FBI agent who worked on the case.
The agent, Chad Joy, alleged in a complaint that prosecutors intentionally withheld evidence from defense attorneys during the trial. He also said that an FBI agent had an inappropriate relationship with a star prosecution witness. That agent wore a skirt one day at trial to please the witness, Joy alleged. The complaint surfaced in December.
Prosecutors have said that their legal team did nothing wrong and that most of the issues Joy raised were addressed by the judge during the trial.
Their explanations have not appeased Sullivan, who ordered prosecutors last month to turn over all documents related to Joy's complaint to defense attorneys. At a hearing Friday, the judge became upset when prosecutors disclosed that they had not turned over the documents. He called their behavior "outrageous."
When prosecutors did not offer an explanation for not producing the records, Sullivan held four of them in contempt for violating his order.
Those held in contempt included Brenda Morris, the lead prosecutor on the case, and William Welch, chief of the Justice Department's public integrity section.
Sullivan has not set a date for a hearing on how he will sanction the prosecutors. On Saturday, the judge reversed his decision to hold one of the government lawyers, Kevin Driscoll, in contempt because Driscoll had just joined the prosecution team and had not signed the relevant pleadings.
Stevens is seeking to reverse his conviction in October on seven felony counts of lying on financial disclosure forms to hide $250,000 in gifts and renovations to his Alaska home. Most of the gifts and free renovations were supplied by Bill Allen, the top executive of a now-defunct oil-services firm. Stevens, once one of the most powerful Republicans in the Senate, lost his reelection bid in November.
Legal experts have said that problems with prosecutors would probably bolster Stevens's defense but that it was unclear whether they would be sufficient to overturn his conviction.
The next hearing in the case has been scheduled for April 15.