Getting back to integrity
It is a rare day when a judge orders that prosecutors in a case be criminally investigated for misconduct that could have affected a trial’s outcome.
Tuesday was one of those days. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan began by dismissing corruption charges brought by the Bush administration’s Justice Department against former Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.
Then Sullivan ordered that a special prosecutor lead a criminal investigation into the way six members of the prosecution team conducted themselves during Stevens’ trial. The prosecutors, two employed by the state of Alaska and four who work for the Justice Department, could face prison time and steep fines if found to have violated laws governing trials.
A jury found Stevens guilty in October of lying on his financial disclosure forms about home improvements and gifts he had allegedly received for free from Bill Allen, co-founder and CEO of an Alaska oil services company.
During the trial, at which Allen was the main witness against Stevens, Sullivan found himself repeatedly chastising the prosecutors for missteps that forced him to quash some of the evidence.
But it was after the trial that evidence of truly outrageous prosecutorial misconduct came to light. Among the evidence was an affidavit filed in December by an FBI agent involved in the case. His statement included an allegation that prosecutors failed to deliver key evidence to Stevens’ defense attorneys, as required by law, including evidence that Allen might have perjured himself on the witness stand.
Attorney General Eric Holder, who was tasked by President Barack Obama to reform the Justice Department in light of numerous Bush-era scandals, turned the Stevens case over to three new attorneys, who discovered more evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.
Holder followed that revelation by requesting that all charges against Stevens be dismissed, which Sullivan granted Tuesday.
We hope the actions of Holder and Sullivan are understood by Justice Department attorneys to mean that no more departures from the law and established legal procedures will be tolerated.