Sen. Stevens lawyers seek help sorting evidence

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 13, 2008 

US NEWS STEVENS 1 MCT

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) appears at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing in Washington, DC, July 29, 2008.

CHUCK KENNEDY — Chuck Kennedy / MCT

WASHINGTON -- Lawyers for Sen. Ted Stevens, facing a stepped-up trial schedule, asked for help Wednesday trying to make sense of more than 67,000 documents and 2,800 audio files that could end up as evidence against the Alaska Republican.

Prosecutors and lawyers for Stevens had a brief hearing Wednesday afternoon to decide how to handle discovery materials the Justice Department is handing over to Stevens' defense team. That discovery includes recordings of roughly 10,000 phone conversations.

Stevens, 84, faces a Sept. 24 trial on charges he knowingly took home repairs and gifts worth more than $250,000 from the oil services company, Veco Corp., and failed to report them on his annual U.S. Senate disclosure forms. Next week, a judge will decide whether to grant Stevens' request to move the trial to Alaska.

Wednesday, one of Stevens' lawyers, Alex Romain, asked the government to provide more detail about 67,000 pages of documents they scanned electronically and handed over to the defense. Some of the documents don't show where they begin and end, the defense complained. Those documents include bank records, spreadsheets and evidence seized from Veco Corp. computers.

Veco CEO Bill Allen and Richard Smith, a former vice president of community affairs and government relations for the now-defunct oil services company, pleaded guilty in May 2007 to making more than $400,000 in corrupt payments to public officials from Alaska. Allen's testimony has been key in other convictions in the public corruption investigation, which to date has led to charges against 11 lawmakers, lobbyists and businessmen. Eight have been convicted or pleaded guilty. Three lawmakers, including Stevens, are awaiting trial.

Stevens' lawyers on Wednesday also asked to have better labeling on approximately 2,800 audio files, and the government agreed to be more forthcoming about who is calling or who is receiving the call, and when it was made. The audio files include wiretaps of both cell phones and land lines, Stevens' lawyers said Wednesday.

The defense also wants the "surveillance logs" used by investigators to determine when calls began and ended and who is on the line.

With all the discovery materials, prosecutors said they would work with the defense to try to provide more information.

The fast-moving trial calendar, speeded up so Stevens could face a jury before the general election, means that some of the tug-of-war that generally goes on behind the scenes in criminal trials is playing out in the courtroom.

They're the kinds of issues that often could be handled over the telephone, said U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan. In this case, though, Sullivan said he is eager to be as transparent as possible because of the high-profile nature of the trial and the intense media scrutiny.

When necessary, Sullivan said, he'll hold a hearing, but the speed of the case means that lawyers need to resolve some of their disputes over potential evidence among themselves.

"I'm going to make myself available," he warned the defense and prosecution, "but this is an issue best resolved by the attorneys."

If the case remains in Washington D.C., jury selection is scheduled to begin Sept. 22, two days before the trial. Lawyers for both the defense and the prosecution have asked to submit questionnaires to the jurors, so they can review them and base their selection on their answers.

Questionnaires are rarely used, Sullivan said, so he asked the lawyers to make plans to photocopy 30 to 40 copies of the answers submitted by the estimated 150 jurors in the initial pool.

Meanwhile, Stevens' lawyers submitted a second brief Wednesday in support of their motion to move the trial to Alaska. In it they argued that holding the trial in Alaska is "the only way to permit Senator Stevens even a minor role in his re-election campaign." Stevens, who has held his Senate seat since 1968 and has been campaigning in Alaska, has attended only one of his court appearances since his indictment.

They continued to argue that most of the witnesses are in Alaska, as is one of the pieces of evidence in the case: Stevens' home.

Stevens' lawyers also dismissed concerns by the Justice Department prosecutors that moving the trial to Alaska -- while the senator campaigns there -- could taint the jury pool.

Stevens has "received positive and negative publicity in Alaska and in the District of Columbia," his lawyers wrote. "This publicity can be expected to continue in both venues during the trial. In either venue, the effects of pre-trial publicity can be addressed during jury selection while the effects of publicity during trial can be addressed by appropriate instructions to the jury."

Prosecutors argued in a motion filed Monday that they believe the case is fundamentally a Washington D.C.-based one, since the case centers around disclosure forms Stevens filed with the U.S. Senate.

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