The article misstated the name of the Justice Department unit that polices violations of ethics rules. It is the Office of Professional Responsibility.
Two in Justice's Integrity Section Transferred
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Justice Department leaders quietly transferred two career prosecutors under fire for their work in Alaska corruption cases out of the department's public integrity section this week as scrutiny of the troubled unit intensifies, according to two sources.
Prosecutors Nicholas Marsh and Edward Sullivan received notice of their reassignment Thursday, the same day that department officials petitioned an appeals court to release from prison two Alaska legislators convicted of bribery and extortion offenses, said the sources, who requested anonymity to speak about the personnel issue.
The criminal convictions of Peter Kott, former speaker of the state's House of Representatives, and longtime legislator Victor Kohring will be sent back to a lower court for review. Justice Department officials disclosed late Thursday that they had uncovered evidence-sharing lapses in the cases similar to those that demolished their case against long-serving Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) in April.
Marsh, Sullivan, and Alaska-based assistant U.S. attorneys Joseph Bottini and James Goeke worked on the Stevens case and on the trial team that secured convictions against both Alaska lawmakers two years ago.
Legal analysts who followed those prosecutions pointed out that the government had bolstered its cases by presenting to the jury audio and video recordings of the lawmakers allegedly accepting cash and favors from executives at an oil-services company.
Lawyers defending political figures have already sought a review of their cases and called for the leaders of the Justice Department's public integrity team to be removed. Both William Welch, the section's chief, and Brenda Morris, its principal deputy, played oversight roles on the Alaska cases. They have not been moved from their leadership posts, although judges in the District have suggested that there will be an eventual change in management.
Meanwhile, the work of the section has slowed as the entire trial team in the Stevens case remains the subject of an investigation ordered by a federal judge and another by the department's Office of Public Integrity, which polices alleged violations of ethical rules.
The decision to transfer Marsh and Sullivan, while leaving in place the other members of the Stevens team, has produced grumbling among some lawyers in the criminal division and elsewhere at the department, according to two other sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing probes.
The sources said the fear was that lower-level attorneys were being sacrificed by new political appointees at the department who are now applying more rigorous standards on evidence-sharing practices than were in place before.
The turnaround in the Alaska state cases comes amid a preliminary review of those investigations. It also raises anew questions about whether evidence failings at the Justice Department extend beyond public corruption cases. Department officials are reviewing standards and training for prosecutors after judges in the District, Miami and Boston expressed concern in unrelated cases.
Laura Sweeney, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment yesterday on the personnel moves and the ongoing reviews. Lawyers for Marsh and Sullivan also declined to comment.
In a speech this week, new criminal division chief Lanny A. Breuer said he had "only the highest expectations for the division's employees: We will be disciplined and focused in our objectives; vigilant but ethical in our approach; and absolutely stellar in our execution."
Mary Patrice Brown, who recently took over the department's ethics operation, told an audience of D.C. attorneys last month that good defense lawyers frequently make allegations about faulty evidence sharing by prosecutors. But, she said, in guidance to younger lawyers, "If your gut is telling you you do not want the defense to have this, that's how you know you must" turn it over.