The United States Justice Department has finally outdone the O.J. Simpson prosecution team as the worst in history. After derailing a relatively straightforward case with prosecutorial abuse and creating major appellate issues for former Senator Ted Stevens (R., Alaska), they have now succeeded in getting one of the most mild mannered federal judges to hold them in contempt — with obvious justification.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan has finally had enough with the Justice Department’s handling of the case, calling their conduct “outrageous.” Previously, in this never-ending story of prosecutorial incompetence, the prosecutors almost forced a new trial by withholding evidence. Sullivan considered a mistrial but reluctantly allowed the trial to go forward.
Then last month, Sullivan ordered the Justice Department to turn over all the agency’s internal communications regarding a whistleblower complaint against the FBI agent related to the case against Stevens. The agent, (appropriately named for Stevens) Chad Joy, indicated that there was an inappropriate relationship between a key witness and the prosecutors.
Sullivan has repeatedly asked why the documents have not be turned over and the prosecutors had no explanation. The Justice Department did not seem to think it was important to even prepare an answer for the Court and Judge Sullivan finally had enough: “That was a court order,” he bellowed. “That wasn’t a request. I didn’t ask for them out of the kindness of your hearts. … Isn’t the Department of Justice taking court orders seriously these days? That’s outrageous for the Department of Justice — the largest law firm on the planet,” he said. “That is not acceptable in this court.”
It was a rare moment in court. Federal judges routinely sanction private counsel for actions that are regularly committed by prosecutors without penalty. Judge Sullivan held all three attorneys in the courtroom in contempt.
I have litigated in front of Judge Sullivan for years and I can say that he is a judge who gives attorneys a great deal of respect and leeway in the courtroom, making him one of the most popular and respected judges on the federal bench.
As for Stevens, the prosecutors have proven his greatest defense asset. Their obvious abuses and mistakes have given Stevens a real chance for a new trial. It is an amazing reversal of fortunes for a man who is the very face of Washington corruption.
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