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Reactions to the report on Ted Stevens corruption trial

Amanda CoyneThe New York Times

The long-awaited investigative report concerning prosecutorial misconduct in the federal corruption trial of the late Sen. Ted Stevens has been released publicly. And it appears that, as some expected, Alaska prosecutors are going to take the fall for the missteps of the whole team. 

The 525-page report was compiled by special investigator Henry F. Schuelke III, appointed by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, who presided over Stevens' 2008 trial. The appearance of prosecutorial misconduct during the trial, which ended with a guilty verdict, spurred an infuriated Sullivan to initiate the investigation after he threw out Stevens' conviction.

The report is a “windy road,” according to Steven’s lawyer, Brendan Sullivan -- no relation to Judge Sullivan -- that shows “government corruption that is shocking in its boldness and its breadth.”

Sullivan's was but one reaction to the report:

From Brendan Sullivan, Ted Stevens’ lawyer:

The report provides evidence of government corruption that is shocking in its boldness and its breadth:  

• The government encouraged and presented to the jury false testimony by its star witness, Bill Allen.  Government attorneys sat silently while Allen lied about whether his case altering testimony was in fact a recent fabrication designed to undermine powerful evidence for the defense.  Moreover, the government hid from the defense the written evidence proving the lie.  

• The government hid critical witness statements that would have bolstered the testimony of both the senator and Catherine Stevens, and even sent the witness back to Alaska so that the witness providing these statements would not testify.

• The government introduced false business records to boost the value of renovations on the senator’s Alaska home. It also hid from the defense the evidence needed to show that the value was much less than the government claimed, including evidence that its key witness disagreed with the government about the value of the renovations. 

• The government hid from the court evidence that its chief witness was a sexual predator, who encouraged a young woman to sign an affidavit falsely stating that she had not had sex with Allen when she was just 15 years old.  The government lied to protect its chief witness and to prevent the defense from using this damning information during cross-examination of Allen.  Had the defense been permitted to demonstrate that Allen had previously suborned perjury about his own sexual misconduct, the government’s case would have been destroyed.

From Sen. Stevens’ wife, Catherine Stevens:

I am grateful Judge Emmet Sullivan has released Mr. Schuelke’s report. I am also deeply thankful, as was my husband, for the dedicated team at Williams & Connolly who have continued to pursue justice.

It will take me and the other members of my family a few days to review the report.  I ask that you respect our privacy as we do so.

I can say that the Stevens family continues to be shocked by the depth and breadth of the government’s misconduct.  Ted served our country as a pilot in World War II and as a United States Senator for over 40 years.  A team of federal prosecutors denied him the constitutional rights guaranteed to all our citizens.  As a former federal and state prosecutor, I find it hard to understand the actions by those who have sworn to uphold our laws.

My husband, also a former federal prosecutor, very much wanted to read this report and the yet to be released report by the Office of Professional Responsibility.  I am saddened that he is not able to do so.

From The National Associations of Criminal Defense Lawyers:

The Schuelke investigation and the full record of this case should restore the late senator’s reputation. As Stevens’ attorneys point out, there was never a conviction in the case. Conviction occurs only after sentencing, and Judge Sullivan dismissed the case after the verdict but prior to sentencing.

Also today, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and co-sponsors will introduce legislation, the Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act, which should help guide federal prosecutors on what kinds of evidence must be disclosed to the defense and when.

Lisa M. Wayne, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, observed, “Even well-intentioned prosecutors lack the clear statutory guidance necessary to ensure the full and prompt disclosure to the defense of favorable evidence. That lack of disclosure contributes to unjust and wrongful prosecutions and convictions.”

In conjunction with today’s events, NACDL has also released a new video, “America Needs Sensible Discovery Reform,” describing similar problems arising over disclosure of evidence and the solution, on the Association’s Discovery Reform web page at http://www.nacdl.org/discoveryreform.

From Ken Wainstein, counsel for Alaska federal prosecutor Joe Bottini:

Our criminal justice system is based on principles of fairness and due process and the fundamental requirement that criminal accusations should be leveled only when a person intentionally violates the law and not when one simply makes mistakes. The process resulting in today’s Special Prosecutor’s report deviated dramatically from those principles, and the result is a good man’s human errors have been miscast as intentional criminal misconduct. We have written the Attorney General to explain how far this process deviated from these principles, and to assure him and Joe Bottini’s Justice Department colleagues that, despite the mischaracterizations in today’s report, Joe is a man of honor and integrity who has devoted his entire career to serving these principles and the Department of Justice and its mission.

From Laura Sweeney, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice: 

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The Department has cooperated fully with Mr. Schuelke’s inquiry into the prosecution of former Senator Ted Stevens and provided information throughout the process.  The Department is in the process of making an independent assessment of the conduct and, to the extent it is appropriate and in accordance with the privacy laws, we will endeavor to make our findings public when that review is final.”          

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When concerns were raised about the handling of this case following the 2008 conviction of Senator Stevens, the Department conducted an internal review that culminated in the Attorney General ordering a dismissal of this case.  Since that dismissal in April 2009, the Department has instituted a sweeping training curriculum for all federal prosecutors, and made annual discovery training mandatory.  We have taken unprecedented steps to ensure prosecutors, agents and paralegals have the necessary training and resources to properly fulfill their discovery and ethics obligations. 

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We know that justice is served only when all parties adhere to the rules and case law that govern our criminal justice system.  While the Department meets its discovery obligations in nearly all cases, even one failure is one too many and we will continue to work with our prosecutors to ensure they have all the support and resources they need to do their jobs.  But it would be an injustice of a different kind for the thousands of men and women who spend their lives fighting to uphold the law and keep our communities safe to be tainted by the misguided notion that instances of intentional prosecutorial misconduct are anything but rare occurrences.”

Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda@alaskadispatch.com