U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan called “outrageous” the conduct of lawyers from the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, including unit chief William Welch and deputy Brenda Morris. He held the lawyers in contempt after they conceded having “no reason” to withhold the evidence.
“That was a court order, it wasn’t a request,” an irate Judge Sullivan said. “Isn’t the Justice Department taking court orders seriously these days?”
The hearing Friday is part of Stevens’ bid to have his conviction overturned because of government misconduct.
Stevens, 85, was convicted in October of seven felony counts stemming from gifts and home renovations that he did not report on Senate financial-disclosure forms. He lost a re-election battle a month after his convictions. Stevens had been the Senate’s longest-serving Republican, holding his seat for 40 years.
A sentencing date will not be set while Stevens seeks to have the charges thrown out or at least receive a new trial, but the contempt citation won’t likely help him much in that quest.
“I don’t know that it will mean a lot, but it is a sign that the judge is upset,” said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias. “Maybe his patience was just worn thin; judges don’t do that lightly. I don’t think Judge Sullivan would do that lightly.”
Robert Kelner, a white-collar defense lawyer who specializes in political-corruption cases and congressional investigations, called Friday’s developments “highly unusual.”
“It is certainly not every day that a federal court holds several senior Justice Department lawyers in contempt,” said Mr. Kelner, who is not involved in the case. “That’s an extraordinary development.”
Judge Sullivan said he doesn’t want to get “sidetracked” and will wait until the case has completely concluded to consider possible sanctions against the government lawyers.
Though Judge Sullivan could also withdraw the contempt citations, the consequences the lawyers face range from admonishments to fines and referrals to bar associations for possible discipline. Mr. Kelner said it is not likely the lawyers will be jailed.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the contempt citations beyond saying prosecutors gave defense attorneys the documents in question after Friday’s hearing.
“We will continue to litigate in court matters related to the jury’s conviction of Senator Stevens,” said department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney.
Friday is not the first time prosecutors in the case angered Judge Sullivan.
During the trial, he chided them for failing to turn over evidence that potentially may have helped Stevens. Prosecutors maintained they made honest mistakes, and the judge ultimately determined the misconduct wasn’t serious enough to warrant a dismissal.View Entire Story
Ben Conery is a member of the investigative team covering the Supreme Court and legal affairs. Prior to coming to The Washington Times in 2008, Mr. Conery covered criminal justice and legal affairs for daily newspapers in Connecticut and Massachusetts. He was a 2006 recipient of the New England Newspaper Association’s Publick Occurrences Award for a series of articles about ...
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