Two Justice Department prosecutors who were suspended for withholding evidence during the 2008 corruption trial against former senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) have won their appeals from a federal panel that reviews discipline against civil servants.
The Merit Systems Protection Board on Jan. 2 upheld a 2013 ruling by an administrative judge that found that the Justice Department violated its own rules when it suspended prosecutors Joseph Bottini and James Goeke without pay for failing to turn over evidence that could have helped the late senator’s defense. Bottini lost 40 days of pay and Goeke 15.
While the three-member board did not clear the attorneys of wrongdoing, it found that justice officials committed a “harmful procedural error that likely had a harmful effect on the outcome of the case before the agency,” according to the board’s 18-page decision.
The board found that justice officials wrongly replaced the staff attorney assigned to investigate the case against Bottini and Goeke, replacing him with a member of management. The original attorney had found that discipline was not warranted against the prosecutors; the manager who took over disagreed and proceeded with the suspensions. The merit systems board said this action violated Justice Department procedures for investigating alleged misconduct.
Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment on the ruling, which the agency has the right to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Stevens, an influential and long-serving senator, was charged in 2008 with failing to report tens of thousands of dollars in gifts from an oil services company. He denied any wrongdoing. He was found guilty and narrowly defeated for reelection. But the Justice Department dismissed the case before sentencing amid allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.
Stevens died in a plane crash in Alaska in 2010.
According to the ruling, justice officials must cancel the suspensions within 20 days and give prosecutors back pay and interest.