Stevens case isn't over: Judge holds prosecutors in contempt

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 13, 2009 

WASHINGTON — The judge who oversaw Ted Stevens' corruption trial on Friday held in contempt four Justice Department prosecutors for failing to turn over documents to the former senator's lawyers.

Calling their conduct "outrageous" as employees of "the largest law firm on the planet," U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan told the Justice Department attorneys Friday afternoon that they must give the documents to Stevens' legal team by 5 p.m.

"The government has complied with the court's order and produced to defense counsel the documents discussed at today's hearing," Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said Friday. "We will continue to litigate in court matters related to the jury's conviction of Senator Stevens."

The judge said he wasn't going to address on Friday what sort of penalties the contempt citing will have for the Justice Department lawyers. They include the head of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section, William Welch; the lead trial attorney in the case, Brenda Morris; the attorney who was handling the work product question within the Justice Department, Kevin Driscoll; and the chief of the Justice Department's criminal appeals section, Patty Merkamp Stemler.

Sullivan told them he would address the questions of sanctions when the case reaches a conclusion.

The documents in question relate to what prosecutors knew — and when — about the whistleblower status of Chad Joy, an Anchorage FBI agent who worked on the case. Joy in December accused a fellow FBI agent of an improper relationship with the lead witness in the case, Bill Allen, the former head of the Alaska oil services company Veco Corp. Joy also alleged in his complaint that prosecutors in the case violated FBI policy — as well as the rules for fair trials — during the investigation and Stevens' trial last year.

The Justice Department maintained that the documents sought by the defense were privileged work documents and not subject to review by Stevens' lawyers. The documents sought include e-mails between attorneys within the Public Integrity Section and others within the Justice Department regarding Joy's status as a whistleblower.

Sullivan disagreed with the department's assertion and on Feb. 3 ordered that they turn the documents over. There is a precedent for releasing such work when an attorney's conduct is at issue, Sullivan said in court Friday.

"I have no interest in poring over the government's files," Sullivan said Friday, but he added that he wants to know "why I was told certain things I was told."

Stevens was convicted in October on seven counts of lying on financial disclosure forms about gifts — including renovations that doubled his home in size — from Allen and others. The 40-year Senate veteran, who was on trial in Washington in the midst of his re-election bid, lost his seat to Democrat Mark Begich.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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