Stevens’ Motions to Dismiss Denied

Posted September 10, 2008 at 6:49pm

Sen. Ted Stevens’ pretrial defense strategy faced a minor setback Wednesday as a federal judge rejected several motions to dismiss all or part of the charges against the Alaska Republican.

[IMGCAP(1)]Judge Emmet Sullivan did not, however, immediately rule on motions from either side related to the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause, but he said he would do so in the coming days.

Stevens, whose trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 22 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is charged with seven counts of filing false financial disclosure reports to conceal the receipt of more than $250,000 in gifts over an eight-year period. He has pleaded not guilty on all counts.

In a pretrial hearing Wednesday, Sullivan heard arguments on numerous motions filed by both sides, ultimately ruling against a plethora of actions sought by Stevens.

The judge turned back two attempts by the Senator’s attorneys to dismiss the case in its entirety, including an argument that the government’s prosecution violates the separation of powers and that only the Senate can discipline a lawmaker for filing improper financial disclosure paperwork.

A second failed argument attempted to frame the indictment as “unconstitutionally vague,” asserting the government had not fully detailed the gifts Stevens allegedly received.

The Alaskan’s attorneys make another effort to eliminate one count of the indictment, asserting that it included charges that had expired under a five-year statute of limitations or mirrored allegations from elsewhere in the indictment.

Sullivan sided with government prosecutors, however, who had argued the oldest violations should be included as a “scheme to conceal rather than a single making of a material false, fictitious and fraudulent statement or representation.”

In addition, Sullivan rejected a motion from Stevens to remove language from the indictment alleging that the Senator and his staff received solicitations from oil services firm VECO during the same period that he accepted gifts from the company and its executives, primarily in the form of renovations to his Girdwood, Alaska, home.

While government attorneys asserted that those allegations are necessary to demonstrate Stevens’ motivations in the case, the Senator’s lawyers disparaged that statement as prejudicial and unnecessary, noting that the Alaskan has not been charged with bribery.

“There’s nothing wrong with the behavior alleged in paragraph 17,” attorney Rob Cary said. “If this case is going to be about constituent solicitations, constituent service, we’re going to be here for a very long time.”

Cary added: “They just want to suggest it and stink up the courtroom. It’s not right, your honor.”

Stevens’ attorneys also asserted that unless the language was struck, it would need to be addressed and could add another week to the trial’s length.

Despite refusing to strike the disputed allegations, Sullivan did state he would consider allowing Stevens’ attorneys to offer instructions to the jury on how to interpret that section of the indictment.

Sullivan deferred judgment on a separate government motion to exclude the criminal records of several defendants, stating that those questions could be addressed during the course of the trial.

During the hearing, Sullivan also addressed a dispute over the sharing of evidence in the case, brokering several agreements with regard to photos and surveillance logs, but said he would not otherwise issue a specific order directing either side to obey evidentiary rules.

A second pretrial conference is scheduled for Sept. 18, with jury selection expected to begin Sept. 22.

Sullivan said he expects jury selection to last two days, with one-hour opening arguments on Sept. 24. Stevens waived his right to appear and was not in the courtroom Wednesday.