Judge drops contempt citation against prosecutors in Ted Stevens case

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 13, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Contempt proceedings were dismissed Tuesday against three of the prosecutors involved in the criminal case against Sen. Ted Stevens.

The proceedings, involving civil contempt accusations raised by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, stem from the failure of the three prosecutors to provide information to Stevens' lawyers in the months following his 2008 trial but before the jury verdicts of guilty were set aside in April 2009.

Sullivan ruled that the three prosecutors resolved the issue by providing the documents, though he noted in his memorandum opinion that he was unable to cite the date of compliance.

The civil contempt matter on which Sullivan ruled is separate from the on-going criminal contempt investigation by a special prosecutor hired by Sullivan after he dismissed the Stevens case. The criminal contempt investigation remains active. The special prosecutor, a former military judge, is investigating six prosecutors in the case for potential criminal contempt and obstruction of justice. Last month, one of the six prosecutors targeted by Sullivan in that investigation committed suicide.

Sullivan acted Tuesday in response to a motion brought by one of the three prosecutors he cited for civil contempt on Feb. 13, 2009, Patty Merkamp Stemler, chief of the Justice Department's appellate section. Stemler entered the Stevens case on Jan. 16, 2009, at a time when the Justice Department was still trying to salvage Stevens' convictions on failure to disclose gifts and services he received. Four months later, the Justice Department gave up and moved to dismiss the case, citing prosecutorial misconduct.

Stemler was not part of the original prosecution team and Sullivan noted that she was not among those being investigated for criminal contempt. The other prosecutors named in the civil contempt order were the head of the department's Public Integrity Section, William Welch; and the lead trial attorney in the case, Brenda Morris.

The civil contempt order arose when Sullivan in early 2009 was trying to determine what prosecutors knew -- and when they knew it -- about the whistle-blower status of Chad Joy, an Anchorage FBI agent who worked on the corruption investigation.

In December 2008, Joy 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. They include e-mails between attorneys within the Public Integrity Section and others in the Justice Department regarding Joy's status as a whistle-blower.

Sullivan disagreed with the government's assertion, and ordered on Feb. 3 that they turn them over -- which they eventually did.

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