Justice Department Urges Suspensions for Misconduct in Stevens Case
Two Justice Department prosecutors who engaged in “reckless professional misconduct” that derailed the prosecution of the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) will be suspended without pay, a disciplinary unit within the agency announced this week.
The department’s Professional Misconduct Review Unit recommended that Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Bottini and James Goeke be suspended for 40 days and 15 days, respectively. The decisions were mailed to the two attorneys on Wednesday and delivered today to the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary committees as attachments to a letter.
“We recognize that the Stevens case is a matter of significant congressional and public interest,” Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). “Under these extraordinary circumstances — and in light of the tremendous priority that the Committee has placed on this matter — we are prepared to accommodate the Committee’s oversight needs by providing you with the enclosed materials.”
Attached to the letter summarizing the department’s findings was a 627-page report that the department’s Office of Professional Review completed last August, disciplinary proposals for the two attorneys, their written responses and the final decisions that were mailed this week. Bottini and Goeke have 30 days to appeal the decisions to the Merit Systems Protection Board, a quasi-independent judicial agency that services executive branch agencies.
Stevens was indicted, tried and found guilty in the fall of 2008 of making false statements on his annual financial disclosure forms filed with the Senate. Prosecutors alleged — and a jury agreed — that Stevens should have disclosed “gifts” he had received in connection with the remodeling of a home he owned in Girdwood, Alaska, because he had not paid for the full value of the repairs.
The verdict was set aside months later when the Justice Department said its prosecutors had failed to hand over evidence that could have bolstered Stevens’ defense, as required by law.
U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, who presided over Stevens’ trial, appointed special counsel Henry Schuelke to investigate the conduct of the six attorneys in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section who were responsible for the Stevens case and recommend whether they could be prosecuted.
When Schuelke’s 500-page report was unsealed in March, it revealed how the Stevens case had been “permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Senator Stevens’s defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witnesses.”
The report’s release ignited Congressional interest in the issue.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced bipartisan legislation the same day that is designed to reinforce the government’s court-established obligation to share information in its possession that is favorable to the defense. Both the Senate and House judiciary committees quickly scheduled hearings on Schuelke’s report.
Leahy said today that the committee’s next hearing on the matter will be held June 6.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, released a statement on the report on the Stevens prosecution.
“Prosecutors have an obligation to get the process right, not just to try to win cases. The Judiciary Committee has an oversight responsibility over the Justice Department. It’s appropriate for Chairman Leahy to have scheduled a hearing to examine what went wrong in the Stevens case and what steps are necessary to prevent a recurrence in future cases. The Justice Department failures highlighted by the special prosecutor’s report and now confirmed by the Justice Department’s internal process raise serious questions about the candor of prosecutors before the courts. This was a high profile case that impacted the outcome of an election. If the Justice Department isn’t getting a big case such as this right, it begs the question of what is happening in courts across the country every day.”