The suspensions of two Justice Department prosecutors for failing to turn over evidence in the government’s botched corruptions case against Sen. Ted Stevens have been overturned by an administrative judge.
Administrative Judge Benjamin Gutman said the Justice Department erred in having a member of its management rather than a rank-and-file attorney decide the case. He said the department violated its own procedures in suspending the prosecutors — James Goeke and Joseph Bottini — for failing to turn over evidence considered necessary to Mr. Stevens’ defense.
The ruling, issued Friday night, did not address whether Mr. Goeke and Mr. Bottini were guilty of the allegations or whether penalties assessed against them were reasonable. The Justice Department is reviewing the matter and will decide whether to appeal the ruling.
A blistering 514-page report by Special Counsel Henry F. Schuelke III in March 2012 said the investigation of Mr. Stevens, Alaska Republican, was permeated by the “systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence,” in some instances intentionally, that would have independently corroborated his defense and testimony.
The report said Justice Department prosecutors never conducted a comprehensive review of evidence favorable to Mr. Stevens and failed to disclose to defense attorneys notes of witness interviews containing significant information. It also said Mr. Goeke and Mr. Bottini intentionally withheld and concealed significant information from the Stevens defense team that would have seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witness.
Months after a jury convicted Mr. Stevens in October 2008 of accepting and concealing money for home renovations and other gifts, the report said a new team of prosecutors discovered the failure to turn over evidence. At that point, it said, Justice moved to set aside the verdict and dismiss an indictment with prejudice.
In throwing out the case, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan 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.”
Mr. Stevens died at age 86 in an Aug. 9, 2010, plane crash 17 miles north of Dillingham, Alaska, while en route to a private fishing lodge. Four other people were killed in the crash, and four passengers, including former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, survived.
The senator lost a tight re-election race in 2008, mere days after he was convicted of failing to disclose more than $250,000 he was accused of receiving in gifts and home renovations.
The Justice Department ruled last year that the two prosecutors had engaged in reckless professional misconduct. It ordered Mr. Bottini suspended for 40 days and Mr. Goeke for 15 days. They appealed the suspensions to the Merit Systems Protection Board.