Legal issues

Contempt in Court
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post, 2008-10-18

For 12 in D.C., That First Vote Is a Doozy
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post, 2008-10-22 (page A3)

[Its beginning and end; paragraph numbers and emphasis are added.]

the people of the District of Columbia
are getting a vote in congressional elections.

In the coming days,
a dozen D.C. residents will have a big say
in deciding
who will represent Alaska in the Senate over the next six years.

If they acquit Sen. Ted Stevens in his trial,
the 84-year-old Republican is likely to win another term.
If they convict him on the corruption-related charges,
his Democratic opponent, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich,
will probably get the seat.

“It’s all about what happens in the trial,”
Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, the head of the Republicans’ Senate campaign effort,
said over breakfast at the National Press Club yesterday morning.
If “he is found innocent, I think that he will win that election up there,”
Ensign said.
“If it goes the other way,
obviously, it really won’t matter what happens in the election.”

Now what was that about taxation without representation?

Stevens’s reelection prospects
didn’t figure prominently in the trial arguments,
which ended yesterday.
So jurors are unlikely to know the stakes:
[Well, unless they happen to read,
or have brought to their attention,
this Dana Milbank column on page 3 of the main Washington newspsper.]

that Democrats,
in their long-shot quest for a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate,
will almost certainly fall short of that goal if Stevens holds on.

But even if they were unaware of
their consequential role in national politics,
jurors saw their fourth-floor courtroom
transformed during closing arguments yesterday into
something very much like a battleground state.


Prosecutor Brenda Morris [cf.]

applied some lip gloss before the jury entered.
She stretched her neck from side to side.
And then she retaliated with
her own courtroom version of the political attack ad.
“Wow!” she yelled after Sullivan finished.
“Were we at the same trial?”
Morris mocked Stevens for “sputtering and stuttering” on the stand.
The senator’s wife, she said,
“is still recovering from the bus they threw her under.”
She compared Stevens to
a woman receiving “awfully purdy things” from a secret lover.
And she called the defense’s claims “wild” and “psychedelic.”

The prosecutor ridiculed the defense for bringing in
everybody but Olympic swimmers and Muhammad Ali as character witnesses:
“It’s not like Colin Powell and his wife are going to be riding by one day
and say,
‘Oh, the Stevenses are doing some work, I wonder who’s doing it?’ ”
And she delivered what may have been
the most cutting words the former Senate president pro tempore
has ever heard.
“This trial has exposed the truth about one of the longest-serving senators,”
she argued, belittling him as
a “onetime chairman of the appropriations committee”
who “didn’t know how to pay a bill.”

Stevens, looking pale,
slouched in his chair as Morris recounted for the jurors
the most damaging part of the trial --
Stevens’s own bullying testimony.

“Behind all that growling
and all those snappy comebacks
and the righteous indignation,
he’s just a man and he needs to stand up and take responsibility,”
she said, asking the residents of the District of Columbia
to do what “very few people have done:
Stand up to him.”

U.S. to Drop Case Against Ex-Senator From Alaska
New York Times, 2009-04-02

[From the preliminary version of the story,
on the web 04-01:]

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department moved on Wednesday morning to drop all charges against former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who narrowly lost his seat last year shortly after being convicted on seven felony counts of ethics violations.

In a stunning development, Justice Department lawyers told a federal court that they had discovered a new instance of prosecutorial misconduct in the case and asked that the convictions be voided. Attorney General Eric F. Holder Jr. said that in the interests of justice there would be no new trial in the case.

Mr. Stevens, who is 85, had been the longest serving Republican in the history of the Senate. He had been charged with lying on Senate disclosure forms by concealing an estimated $250,000 worth of goods and services he received, mostly to renovate a chalet he owned in Alaska. Prosecutors said he received the bulk of the goods and services from Bill Allen, a longtime friend who had made a fortune by providing services to Alaska’s booming oil industry.

But in their filing on Wednesday, government lawyers said that trial prosecutors had concealed from Mr. Stevens’s defense lawyers the notes from an interview with Mr. Allen that raised significant doubts about the charges. Among other things, Mr. Allen asserted in the interview that the work on the Stevens home was worth only about $80,000, they said.

Mr. Stevens’s lawyers argued that he had been unaware of the help he received from Mr. Allen and did not intentionally conceal anything. Mr. Allen was the prosecution’s chief witness, and he provided forceful testimony aimed at demonstrating that Mr. Stevens was fully aware of the largesse he had received and even signaled he wanted it concealed.

Attorney General Holder, who made the decision to move to drop the charges, said in a statement, “I have concluded that certain information should have been provided to the defense for use at trial.” He said it was “in the interests of justice” to dismiss the indictment and forgo a new trial.

Mr. Stevens’s lawyers, Brendan V. Sullivan, Jr. and Robert M. Cary, welcomed the decision in a statement and praised Mr. Holder as “a pillar of integrity in the legal community.” The statement called the case “a sad story and a warning to everyone” that “any citizen can be convicted if prosecutors are hell-bent on ignoring the Constitution.”


[From the final version of the story,
on the web 04-02.
Emphasis is added.]

The collapse of the Stevens case
was a profound embarrassment for the Justice Department, and
it raised troubling issues about
the integrity of the actions of prosecutors

who wield enormous power over people they investigate.

Mr. Stevens’s case was handled by
senior officials of the department’s Public Integrity Section,
which handles official corruption cases.

[Need we observe that this case, against a serving Republican Senator,
was brought by a Justice Department headed by
Republican political appointees.]

Holder Asks Judge to Drop Case Against Ex-Senator
Justice Dept. Cites Prosecutors' Behavior During Stevens Trial
By Carrie Johnson and Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post, 2009-04-02

Based on the description thus far of what happened,
what we have here is, at the very least, an abuse of power.
It points out something I have been discovering over the last twenty years:
That those who have no ability, but desire power, will use any lie, any deceit, any smear, any calumny, to smear their betters.

As to the prosecutors in the Stevens case.
The felony charges against him were that he failed to report certain facts (involving income he supposedly received).
On the other hand, news reports have stated
these prosecutors failed to report certain facts to the defense team.
Should they not be charged with felonious obstruction of justice?

Dismayed Lawyers Lay Out Reasons for Collapse of the Stevens Conviction
New York Times, 2009-04-07

Judge Orders Investigation of Stevens Prosecutors
New York Times, 2009-04-08

[From the preliminary, 04-07, draft.]


A furious federal judge on Tuesday took the extraordinary step of ordering that the prosecutors who bungled the case of former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska be investigated for possible criminal wrongdoing.

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan dismissed the charges against Mr. Stevens, which was expected given the way the case has disintegrated since the conviction in October. But the judge went well beyond that step, declaring that what the prosecutors did was the worst “mishandling or misconduct that I’ve seen in my 25 years.”

Judge Sullivan spoke disdainfully of the prosecutors’ repeated assertions that any mistakes during the trial were inadvertent and made in good faith. He said he had witnessed “shocking and serious” violations of the principle that prosecutors are obligated to turn over all relevant material to the defense.


[The beginning of the final, published, version; emphasis is added.]


A federal judge dismissed the ethics conviction of former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska on Tuesday
after taking the extraordinary step of naming a special prosecutor
to investigate whether the government lawyers who ran the Stevens case
should themselves be prosecuted for criminal wrongdoing.

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan,
speaking in a slow and deliberate manner that failed to conceal his anger,
said that in 25 years on the bench,
he had “never seen mishandling and misconduct like what I have seen”
by the Justice Department prosecutors who tried the Stevens case.

Judge Sullivan’s lacerating 14-minute speech,
focusing on disclosures
that prosecutors had improperly withheld evidence in the case,
virtually guaranteed reverberations beyond
the morning’s dismissal of the verdict
that helped end Mr. Stevens’s Senate career.

The judge,
who was named to the Federal District Court here by President Bill Clinton,
delivered a broad warning about what he said was
a “troubling tendency” he had observed among prosecutors to
stretch the boundaries of ethics restrictions and
conceal evidence
to win cases.


For Ted Stevens, Rough Justice
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post, 2009-04-08

In the end, a form of rough justice triumphed in the case.
It was a marginal prosecution to start with --
accusations of penny-ante corruption and ethics violations --
and it ended with a political, rather than a legal, punishment:
Stevens keeps a clean criminal record, but loses his Senate seat.

[That’s not the impression Milbank gave before the jury made its decision:

Shortfalls Unraveled Stevens's Conviction
Observers Cite Prosecutors' Lack of Time, Other Reasons
By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post, 2009-04-12

Miscellaneous Articles and Issues

At a Symposium of Judges, a Debate on the Laws of Fashion
New York Times, 2009-05-23

Lawyers, note well:
Briefs might be long, but skirts cannot be brief....

Judge Michael P. McCuskey,
chief judge of the Federal District Court for the Central District of Illinois
and a member of the panel,
said that at moot court competitions in law schools,
he had seen participants wearing
“skirts so short that there’s no way they can sit down,
and blouses so short there’s no way the judges wouldn’t look.”


At the Web site of the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal,
one woman parodied the male judges’ comments:
“I’m sorry, Sugar, I’d love to listen to what you’re saying, but I have a penis.
As such, I am only able to use one sense at a time.”

She added:
“What garbage! Poor men can’t control themselves, so women have to respond.”

That sentiment was countered by a comment from a man:
“Yes, please ladies,
by all means use your sexuality to get what you want
(after all, that’s the only excuse you have
for dressing in the manner described in this article).”

[Evidently the old saying
“Love is blind, but not the neighbors”
extends to
“Justice is blind, but not the judges.”]

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