Commentary: Prosecutors forgot about justice in Ted Stevens trial

April 3, 2009 

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

Faced with clear signs of government misconduct, Attorney General Eric Holder made the right call by moving to dismiss the Justice Department's case against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. This is a disappointing end to the Stevens saga, but prosecutors botched this case so badly that the attorney general had no choice but to bring it to a merciful close.

How many times does it need to be said? The job of prosecutors is to obtain justice, not merely to secure convictions. Former Sen. Stevens, to be sure, was no poster child for good government. As a senior member of the Senate, he had clout and enjoyed using it, promoting projects such as the controversial "bridge to nowhere" even when it became the target of critical derision. But prosecutors went after him with such zeal that they forgot their obligation to guard and enforce the rights that every defendant is entitled to in a court of law.

Last November, the government won a bitterly contested conviction against Sen. Stevens on seven counts of filing false statements on his U.S. Senate financial-disclosure forms to hide about $250,000 in gifts and free renovations to his Alaska home. Within days, he lost the Senate seat he had held since 1968. Catching a big fish was a major win for prosecutors, but in the ensuing months it became evident that something was terribly wrong.

First, an FBI agent working on the case filed a whistleblower complaint. He claimed that prosecutors had failed to turn over evidence to the defense as required by law. He said there was an "inappropriate relationship" between the lead agent on the case and the prosecution's star witness. Judge Emmit Sullivan then ordered the Justice Department to turn over 32 documents that would help him to weigh those claims.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.

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