After lapses, Justice orders retraining for its prosecutors

McClatchy NewspapersApril 14, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder launched a wide-ranging review Tuesday of his lawyers' compliance with evidence-sharing rules in response to a federal judge's scathing criticism of prosecutors' conduct in the corruption trial of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

Holder's orders, which included new training for prosecutors, represent yet another humbling blow to a department that prides itself on upholding the highest legal standards, yet has found itself on the defensive lately in high-profile cases.

Earlier this month, a federal judge set aside a jury's guilty verdict and the indictment against Stevens, then announced that he was naming a special prosecutor to investigate whether government attorneys had broken the law by failing to ensure that the Republican lawmaker got a fair trial.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said he'd seen "troubling evidence" that prosecutors had failed to turn over to defense attorneys what's known as exculpatory evidence — information that might help criminal defendants with their cases.

At the time, Sullivan suggested that he'd like to see Holder retrain his prosecutors on their obligations to turn over favorable evidence under the 1963 Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland.

Separately, Sullivan rebuked the government for not turning over medical records to lawyers for Guantanamo detainees and ordered Justice Department lawyers to explain why he shouldn't cite them for contempt.

"How can this court have any confidence whatsoever in the United States government to comply with its obligations and to be truthful to the court?" he asked during a hearing in detainee case.

Holder, who inherited the problems with the Stevens' case from the Bush administration, said he wanted to make sure prosecutors get enough training to understand their obligations.

"The actions we are taking are part of an ongoing process to ensure justice is served in every case the department brings," he said. "We will continue to review how cases are managed before, during and after charges are filed and, where there is room for improvement, we will make additional changes."

Holder appointed a group of senior prosecutors and department officials to review evidence-sharing practices in criminal cases and determine whether even more training was needed.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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