A federal judge Tuesday morning dismissed a corruption conviction against former Sen. Ted Stevens and appointed a lawyer to investigate possible crimes by prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ordered criminal-contempt proceedings against six prosecutors who oversaw the case against Mr. Stevens, Republican, for possible failure to meet their legal obligations and possible obstruction of justice.
“For nearly 25 years, I’ve told defendants appearing before me that in my courtroom they will receive a fair trial and i will make sure of it,” the judge said. “In nearly 25 years on the bench, I have never seen anything approaching the mishandling and the misconduct I have seen in this case.”
The judge appointed Henry F. Schuelke III, a respected private attorney in Washington and a former prosecutor, to investigate. If he finds evidence of crimes and the prosecutors are convicted, they could face prison time.
The judge’s actions were in response to a motion filed earlier this month by the Justice Department asking that the verdict be set aside and the case dismissed.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in the five-page motion, acknowledged more prosecutorial misconduct in a case already marred by such indiscretions. The filing states prosecutors interviewed Mr. Allen, a key witness, but made no official record of it so they would not be forced to give the record to the defense.
“I certainly hope the record will ultimately find no intentional obstruction of justice,” Judge Sullivan said Tuesday.
Mr. Stevens, who cannot be retried for the dismissed charges, briefly addressed the court and thanked his family, lawyers and the judge.
“Until recently, my faith in the criminal system, particularly the judicial system was unwavering,” he said. “But what some members of the prosecution team nearly destroyed my faith.”
He also spoke about his public service as a World War II pilot, U.S. attorney in Alaska, Interior Department lawyer and senator. Mr. Stevens also said he may work to help pass new legislation to keep prosecutors in check.
The case has left Republicans fuming that out-of-control prosecutors cost Mr. Stevens, the Senate’s longest-serving Republican, his chances for re-election with no opportunity for a “do-over.”
Mr. Stevens, 85, narrowly lost re-election days after the verdict after serving 40 years in the Senate.
Paul O’Brien, a Justice Department lawyer appointed to the case after the original prosecution team was pulled off, apologized to Mr. Stevens.
“We deeply regret this occurred,” he said.
Mr. O’Brien’s team discovered the hidden evidence that led Mr. Holder to ask that the case be dismissed.
Defense attorney Brendan Sullivan said he felt sick when he learned about the most recent misconduct.
“We are no match for corrupt prosecutors if they want to hide information known only to them, if they want to present false testimony,” he said.
Judge Sullivan also has ordered the Justice Department to provide internal communications about a whistle-blower complaint brought by an FBI agent involved in the investigation.