In an enormous embarrassment, the Justice Department forced a mistrial in the trial of baseball star Roger Clemens after its attorneys committed a flagrant violation of the court’s orders. Clemens will now have to be retried after U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton found that the Justice Department severely undermined a fair trial for the accused. The sanction is a sharp blow to U.S. Assistant Attorney Steven Durham and his team — and a rare example of a court imposing such sanctions against the government. Defense attorneys often complain that prosecutors engage in such conduct — including some intentional slips — because they are confident that the jury will simply be told to disregard the evidence. It is not known if this was an intentional or simply negligent act by the prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton had previously withheld admission of evidence relating to Laura Pettitte, the wife of Clemens’ friend, Andy Pettitte. The wife allegedly was told by Pettitte that Clemens told him in 1999 or 2000 that he used human growth hormone. When the prosecutors showed a video in which Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., referred to Pettitte’s conversation with his wife, Walton called for a bench conference and ultimately ordered a mistrial.
Walton will hold a Sept. 2 hearing to determine whether to hold a new trial.
Walton spoke to the jury and put the blame squarely on the Justice Department, saying “There are rules that we play by and those rules are designed to make sure both sides receive a fair trial.” He added that when the prosecutors broke those rules they denied Clemens the opportunity “to get a fair trial with this jury would be very difficult if not impossible.”
What is interesting that it does not appear Defense attorney Rusty Hardin objected when the video was shown and that it was the judge who picked up the violation. Whoever found it, it was a huge embarrassment. The government’s case is already highly controversial on issues of materiality and double jeopardy.