January 30, 2009
Judge Rejects Obama's Request for Stay in Guantanamo Trial
From Law.com: "A military judge at Guantanamo on Thursday rejected a White House request to suspend a hearing for the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing, creating an unexpected challenge for the administration as it reviews how America puts suspected terrorists on trial.
The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, said his decision was difficult but necessary to protect "the public interest in a speedy trial." The ruling came in the case against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The bombing of the Navy destroyer in 2000 in the harbor of Aden, Yemen, killed 17 U.S. sailors.
It seemed to take the Pentagon and White House by surprise.
"We just learned of the ruling ... and we are consulting with the Pentagon and the Department of Justice to explore our options in the case," said White Press secretary Robert Gibbs, adding that he doubted the decision would hamper the administration's ability to decide how to move forward from Guantanamo." Full Story from Law.com... [Michele Berry]
January 26, 2009
Governor Blagojevich's Criminal Defense Lawyer to Resign
Gov. Rod Blagojevich's chief defense attorney announced Friday that he is bailing out of the fraud and bribery case against the governor, strongly hinting that his embattled client refused to listen to his advice.
"I never require a client to do what I say, but I do require them to at least listen," Edward Genson said. "I intend to withdraw as counsel in this case."
Genson, who won renown in defending R&B star R. Kelly and former newspaper baron Conrad Black, dropped his bombshell announcement after a U.S. District Court hearing during which Chief Judge James F. Holderman released four wiretapped recordings of Blagojevich and his associates to the Illinois House impeachment committee.
Blagojevich, facing charges of fraud conspiracy and solicitation of bribery, was impeached by the Illinois House earlier this month and today faces trial in the Senate.
The governor held a news conference Friday afternoon and complained that the impeachment trial was unfair and indicated he would not attend.
In recent days, Genson has seemed to be on a separate wavelength from both his client and two other defense attorneys on the case. The legal team sent mixed signals to the media regarding whether the governor planned a lawsuit challenging Senate trial rules.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
January 22, 2009
Federal Judicial Vacancies for Appointment by Obama Administration
Courtesy of uscourts.gov, here is a list of the 55 federal judicial vacancies the Obama Administration will have the opportunity to fill by appointment. 18 of the vacancies are considered "judicial emergencies." [Michele Berry]
NPR: "Obama Orders Guantanamo Bay Prison Closure"
NPR.org: On Day 2 of his presidency, Barack Obama signed executive orders "designed to close Guantanamo Bay prison within a year, prohibit extreme interrogation practices and revisit military tribunals for suspected terrorists.
'Shutting the detention facility is intended to show that U.S. foreign policy is in metamorphosis. The message that we are sending around the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism' but will do so 'in a manner consistent with our values and our ideals," Obama said while signing the orders. Full story from NPR.org... [Michele Berry]
December 30, 2008
N.Y. High Court Bars Surrogate-Elect Over Campaign Contributions
The Court of Appeals on Monday barred Nora S. Anderson from becoming Manhattan surrogate on Jan. 1 pending the outcome of Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau's prosecution of her for allegedly failing to accurately report contributions to her campaign this summer.
A 6-0 court suspended Anderson with pay effective Thursday, when the 10-year term she won earlier this year is to begin. The court gave no reasoning for its decision.
Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye took no part in the deliberations.
Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau will designate an interim judge to fill the opening by early January, said David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration.
Anderson is facing a 10-count indictment that she falsely reported $250,000 that flowed into her campaign in the days preceding her hard-fought primary victory in September over two Democratic rivals. Morgenthau contends the money came in donations and loans from attorney Seth Rubenstein, for whom Anderson has worked for nearly a decade, but was not reported accurately by Anderson in filings with the Board of Elections.
Both Anderson and Rubenstein have been free on their own recognizance since their arraignments. Each faces a prison term of 1 1/3 to four years on each of the top six counts of the indictment, all Class E. felonies.
In a letter to the Court of Appeals, Anderson's attorney, Richard Godosky, had argued that the court was not obligated to suspend Anderson as she contested the charges against her. He also urged that if suspension was the court's decision, that it be with pay.
Manhattan's other surrogate, Kristin Booth Glen, confirmed to the New York Law Journal earlier this month that she swore Anderson in as surrogate about a month after the election. Godosky argued before the Court of Appeals that because she has already been sworn in, Anderson cannot legally practice law after Jan. 1, even if she is prohibited from taking the bench as her prosecution unfolds.
Godosky also told the court that Anderson contributes $800 a month toward the care of her elderly mother, who has Alzheimer's disease, and her terminally ill brother, who lost his job when the firm he worked for was destroyed when the World Trade Center towers were felled on Sept. 11, 2001. Surrogates are paid $136,700 a year.
Godosky, of Godosky & Gentile, said Monday the court's determination to suspend Anderson with pay is a "decision that they've made consistently" in cases where judges face felony charges unrelated to the performance of their official duties. He declined further comment. [Mark Godsey]
Judge-Elect, Indicted, Is Suspended by Court
The New York State Court of Appeals on Monday ordered the suspension of Judge-elect Nora S. Anderson while she faces criminal charges accusing her of committing financial fraud during her campaign to become a Surrogate’s Court judge in Manhattan.
The suspension will take effect on Thursday, the same day that Ms. Anderson was scheduled to take her seat on the bench, according to Gary Spencer, a spokesman for the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. A temporary replacement will be assigned by Ann Pfau, the state’s chief administrative judge.
The appeals court judges voted 6 to 0 to suspend Ms. Anderson, Mr. Spencer said. Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye did not participate because she is going to retire from the court on Wednesday and will not be on the bench when the suspension takes effect.
In most instances, judges facing criminal charges are suspended with pay if the charges have nothing to do with their official duties on the bench, Mr. Spencer said.
A call to Ms. Anderson’s lawyer, Gustave H. Newman, was not returned.
In September, Ms. Anderson rode a well-financed campaign to victory in the Democratic primary in the Surrogate’s Court race. She beat Justice Milton Tingling and John J. Reddy Jr., a lawyer with the Manhattan public administrator’s office. Ms. Anderson was uncontested in the November general election.
This month she was indicted in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on charges that she had concealed the source of $250,000 worth of contributions to her campaign. Prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney’s office also charged Seth Rubenstein — the head of the Brooklyn law firm where Ms. Anderson works, who also served as her campaign adviser — who they say funneled the money illegally to Ms. Anderson’s campaign account. [Mark Godsey]
December 09, 2008
Appeals Court Upholds Senator Craig's Guilty Plea
"Because we see no abuse of discretion in the denial and conclude that the statute is not overbroad, we affirm" a lower court's decision, the three-judge panel wrote in a 10-page ruling.
In a written statement, Craig said he was "extremely disappointed" by the action and was considering an appeal.
"I disagree with their conclusion and remain steadfast in my belief that nothing criminal or improper occurred at the Minneapolis airport," Craig said.
The Idaho Republican was arrested in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in June 2007 after an undercover police officer accused him of soliciting sex by using hand signals and tapping his foot in a bathroom stall. Two months after his arrest, and without consulting a lawyer, Craig pleaded guilty to the charge without appearing in court.
After the incident became public, he attempted to withdraw his plea, contending that his "wide stance" had been misinterpreted by the arresting officer and that he had pleaded guilty simply to get the matter over with.
In an effort to persuade the panel to throw out Craig's guilty plea, his attorney argued that Craig's foot tapping was protected by his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
But the judges were unpersuaded.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
Illinois Governor Arrested on Corruption Charges
Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested this morning on federal corruption charges. Wiretaps recorded Blagojevich discussing how to "sell or trade" the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama "for financial and personal benefits for himself and his wife," prosecutors allege. Also charged in the 2-count indictment, with a lurid 76-page FBI affidavit, was Blagojevich's chief of staff, John Harris.
Blagojevich allegedly was recorded saying he would demand hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Senate appointment, or else he would appoint himself.
On the day before the presidential election, Blagojevich discussed with "Deputy Governor A" the Senate seat that Obama would vacate if he were elected president. According to the affidavit, "Rod Blagojevich told Deputy Governor A that if he is not going to get anything of value for the open Senate seat, then Rod Blagojevich will take the Senate seat himself: 'if ... they're not going to offer anything of value, then I might just take it.'"
In talking with "Advisor A" about "Senate Candidate 1," Blagojevich allegedly "stated that the Senate seat 'is a fucking valuable thing, you don't just give it away for nothing.'"
The affidavit, by FBI agent Daniel Cain, also claims that Blagojevich threatened to withhold state aid from the Tribune Co., which filed for bankruptcy Monday, unless it fired editorial board members who had criticized Blagojevich in editorials.
The affidavit includes numerous pages detailing Blagojevich's alleged connections to the Tony Rezko political contributions scandal.
The allegations regarding Blagojevich's alleged attempts to sell the U.S. Senate seat fill pages 54-74 of the FBI affidavit.
Read full article, including link to the Government's Complaint and Affidavit, here. [Brooks Holland]
December 03, 2008
New Charge for Bernard Kerik
"Nope, it's all in my book," Kerik said when asked in 2002 if there was "anything embarrassing that he wouldn't want the public to know about." In "The Lost Son," Kerik admitted fathering a daughter while he was a soldier in Korea and said his mother, a prostitute, was murdered.
In a beefed-up indictment issued Tuesday, Manhattan federal prosecutors said Kerik should have owned up to his ties to a mob-linked contractor as well as his failure to pay taxes for a nanny he employed.
Kerik attorney Barry Berke said Kerik's statements were not false since the White House query was vague.
The new indictment, which replaces a previous one, still charges that Kerik got free renovations from a would-be city contractor and filed false income-tax returns.
Kerik was forced to withdraw his nomination for homeland security czar shortly after his name was floated.
Article available here. [Brooks Holland]
November 21, 2008
From Justice Stevens, No Exit Signs
For all the speculation about how President-elect Barack Obama's nominees may change the Supreme Court, there is one irrefutable fact: He can't make an appointment until there is a vacancy.
Eighty-eight-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens, the court's longest-serving member, is considered most likely to provide that opening. But in a question-and-answer session Monday at an event sponsored by the University of Florida's Fredric G. Levin College of Law, Stevens gave no indication that he is ready to retire to his part-time home in Fort Lauderdale.
Reminded that the court now takes and issues full opinions in half as many cases as when Stevens was appointed to the court in 1975, the justice said he does not consider the workload a burden.
"From my own personal point of view, it's definitely a positive," Stevens said to laughter. "And I have to say I think we were taking too many cases when I joined the court."
He added: "It's still a full-time job; I wouldn't want to say otherwise. But if we had the same kind of workload today that we had then, I would have resigned 10 years ago." [Mark Godsey]
November 10, 2008
Obama's DOJ Transition Plan
For more than a month, a squad of lawyers has been gathering for the first Justice Department transition in the post-9/11 world. Now that their candidate has won, they're at the gates -- or rather, the 20-foot-high aluminum doors of Main Justice -- waiting for President-elect Barack Obama and President George W. Bush to finalize the rules for information-sharing and access during the transition.
The Justice Department calls its own preparation unprecedented in modern times. Under a 2004 law, the department has been vetting Obama's transition team for security clearances for more than two months. And since at least July, the department has been laying the groundwork for a new administration. Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed his chief of staff, Brian Benczkowski, and Lee Lofthus, the assistant attorney general for administration, to coordinate the transition.
Obama has tapped Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr's David Ogden, the assistant attorney general for the Civil Division under President Bill Clinton, to lead the transition team. His deputy, Thomas Perrelli, managing partner of Jenner & Block's Washington office, is another Clinton administration alum. Perrelli worked under Ogden in the Civil Division as deputy assistant attorney general, supervising the Federal Programs Branch.
The transition will be twice as long as the last one and -- it's hoped -- at least twice as disciplined as the one before that. Obama's first task, the selection of the next attorney general, is likely to be fraught with the memories of Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, whose botched nominations got Clinton's Justice Department off to a wobbly start.
The most-discussed candidate for the top spot is still Covington & Burling's Eric Holder Jr., one of Obama's top campaign advisers. But when Legal Times asked Holder in June whether he'd accept the job if offered, he said: "That ain't gonna happen." (It's unclear whether he was referring to the overture or his response were an overture to be made.)
Others mentioned are Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, an early Obama supporter who is now a member of his transition advisory board, and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who was reportedly on the short list for vice president. Newsweek reports that Charles Ogletree, a Harvard Law School professor who mentored Obama, is also in the running.
A dark horse: Judge Merrick Garland, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, who served as principal associate deputy attorney general under Clinton.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
November 07, 2008
California voters all over the map on propositions
Voters may have banned same-sex marriage, but they rejected a measure that would have required parents to be notified before a girl could obtain an abortion. And they turned down several big-ticket funding initiatives while backing the most expensive of them, a nearly $10-billion bond to build a bullet train.
Was it the clutter of TV ads? The plethora of first-time voters? The phases of the moon?
"This is just one of those times you say, hey, voters are unpredictable," said Ken Khachigian, a Republican strategist. [Mark Godsey]
November 06, 2008
No Federal Charges for Eliot Spitzer
The announcement was made by the office of Michael J. Garcia, the United States attorney in Manhattan. Mr. Spitzer announced his resignation in March two days after The New York Times reported his involvement in a high-priced prostitution ring, the Emperors Club V.I.P.
Mr. Garcia said in a statement that his office had found no evidence that Mr. Spitzer had used public money or campaign funds to pay for his encounters with prostitutes.
“We have determined that there is insufficient evidence to bring charges against Mr. Spitzer,” Mr. Garcia said in the statement. “In light of the policy of the Department of Justice with respect to prostitution offenses and the longstanding practice of this office, as well as Mr. Spitzer’s acceptance of responsibility for his conduct, we have concluded that the public interest would not be further advanced by filing criminal charges in this matter.”
Yusill Scribner, a spokeswoman for Mr. Garcia’s office, would not say whether the decision not to bring charges signaled an end to the investigation, which began late last year, or whether prosecutors would focus on other clients of the Emperors Club V.I.P. or others who had dealings with the people who operated it.
In a statement released on Thursday minutes after the United States attorney’s announcement, Mr. Spitzer said: “I appreciate the impartiality and thoroughness of the investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office, and I acknowledge and accept responsibility for the conduct it disclosed.
“I resigned my position as governor because I recognized that conduct was unworthy of an elected official.”
“I once again apologize for my actions,” he said in the statement, “and for the pain and disappointment those actions caused my family and the many people who supported me during my career in public life.”
Mr. Spitzer, reached on his cellphone, said that he would have no comment beyond the statement.
Don D. Buchwald, the court-appointed lawyer for Ashley Alexandra Dupré, a prostitute Mr. Spitzer met in Washington on Feb. 13, said, “Ashley is pleased that this matter is behind her.”
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
November 04, 2008
Dismissed Stevens Juror Lied to Go to the Racetrack
On Monday, Ms. Hinnant stunned a courtroom when she confessed she had concocted a story about her father’s death to be let off the jury that would, a day later, convict Mr. Stevens of Alaska on ethics violations.
Ms. Hinnant said she had lied to attend the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita racetrack in California.
Just hours before the jury delivered the guilty verdict on Oct. 27, a new juror was seated to replace Ms. Hinnant. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of Federal District Court was sympathetic when he learned of Ms. Hinnant’s apparent loss but he was troubled that she failed to return phone calls to his chamber and ordered her to appear in court.
Ms. Hinnant, 52, was accompanied Monday by A. J. Kramer, the federal public defender, who said she had lied about the death. “She used that as an excuse,” Mr. Kramer said, according to witnesses. Ms. Hinnant then began rambling about horse breeding and other topics, people in court said.
Judge Sullivan interrupted her, saying: “I am thoroughly convinced you would not have been able to deliberate” and dismissed her.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
November 03, 2008
The Criminal Justice Reform Battle in California: Cynical Politicians and Powerful Interests Attacking the Public Good
Here is picture that sums up much that is wrong with American politics. Five governors of California, Democrats and Republicans, joining forces to oppose something that is indisputably in the public interest.
This is an image that could be repeated, with different faces, in region after region of our country, involving issue after issue. Public officials standing against the public good, with the disastrous results on display from Detroit to Wall Street. All suffering from the same destructive force: the power of entrenched special interests to cloud the vision of our leaders, causing them to thwart good sense, good legislation, and the will of the people.
In today's version, we have Jerry Brown, Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, George Deukmejian, and Arnold Schwarzenegger coming together to oppose Prop 5, a common sense ballot initiative that seeks to effectively and intelligently tackle the chronic problems facing California's deeply flawed criminal justice system.
California's prisons are a budget-busting debacle. There are currently more than 170,000 inmates crammed into prisons designed to hold 100,000 people. Around 70,000 of these prisoners are nonviolent offenders, with over half of them incarcerated for a drug offense.
A large part of the problem is a parole system the New York Times recently called "perhaps the most counterproductive and ill-conceived" in the U.S.. California's recidivism rate is 70 percent -- twice the national average. This stems in no small measure from the state's insistence on treating paroled murderers the same way as paroled nonviolent drug offenders. They all spend 3-5 years on parole. This overburdens parole officers, who end up spending very little time with any of their charges -- violent or nonviolent (According to the Times, 80 percent of California parolees have fewer than two 15-minute meetings with their parole officer per month.) Wouldn't it make more sense to keep a closer watch on rapists and killers than on nonviolent drug offenders? [Mark Godsey]
October 21, 2008
U.S. Drops War Crimes Charges against Guantanamo Detainees
The Pentagon official in charge of prosecutions at Guantanamo on Tuesday dismissed war-charges against five detainees, the latest setback to the government’s military commission system.
The official, Susan J. Crawford, has broad power over the military commission tribunals, including the power to dismiss charges, but she does not have to provide public explanations for her decisions and did not on Tuesday.
But a statement from her office said the charges against the five were dismissed without prejudice, which means “the government can raise the charges again at a later time.”
After the decision was announced, Col. Lawrence J. Morris, the chief military prosecutor, said that supervising lawyers in his office had asked Ms. Crawford to withdraw the charges. He said all five would be resubmitted after a review of their files, which had been handled by a prosecutor who left the office after questioning the judicial fairness at Guantanamo.
The best known of the five detainees is Binyam Mohammed, a former British resident who claimed harsh torture methods had been used against him. Government officials have accused him of taking part in a plan to attack the United States with a radioactive dirty bomb.
The Bush administration has long said that it would like to close the detention camp, where 255 detainees are being held on the naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But officials have said in recent days that no action would likely be taken before the end of Mr. Bush’s term in January. One reason they cited was uncertainty about how legal cases against the remaining detainees would be handled inside the United States.
Ms. Crawford also dismissed without prejudice charges that had been presented to her against four other detainees: Noor Uthman Muhammed, Sufyiam Barhoumi, Ghassan Abdullah al Sharbi, and Jabran Said Bin al Qahtani.
All five cases had been handled by Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, a military prosecutor who stepped down from his position in September, saying publicly that there were systemic problems in the prosecution that raised ethical issues. Colonel Vandeveld, an Army reserve officer and the latest person to quit the prosecutor’s office in Guantanamo, said the prosecutors did not fully comply with rules that require that they turn over any information that might help the defense.
Colonel Morris has denied that Colonel Vandeveld’s departure was related to a dispute about complying with legal rules for the proper handling of cases.
“I don’t want to unduly attribute responsibility to him,” Colonel Morris said of reviewing the files handled by Colonel Vandeveld. “We have found that there is more work to be done on all these cases.” He said he had recently appointed new prosecutors to each of the cases.
But detainees’ lawyers cast the decision to withdraw the charges as the latest in a series of difficulties government lawyers have had in pressing cases against Guantanamo detainees.
“My impression is it is just a mess, and the floor is collapsing underneath them,” said Clare Algar, the executive director of Reprieve, an international legal organization that represent many detainees including Binyam Mohammed.
REad full story here. [Brooks Holland]
October 20, 2008
Police camera maker is profitable for politicians
WatchGuard Video, which provides patrol car cameras to state and local police forces across the nation, points with pride to the lawmakers who helped the company grow from a tiny technology startup into a government contracting powerhouse.
And at least two of the lawmakers turned a profit in the process — after the state police began ordering millions of dollars worth of equipment and expanding far outside Texas, interviews and state records show.
Two Texas legislators who made early investments in the booming company said they'd done nothing wrong and never pulled strings on behalf of WatchGuard. But their actions might violate the state constitution and disclosure rules established by the Texas Ethics Commission.
A former Texas legislator and part-time city judge are also investors, the company says.
Government watchdogs say it's an ethical minefield for state lawmakers to have interests in companies with major state contracts.
"When the state representatives are involved it appears like they're greasing the skids with the contract," said Texas ethics watchdog Fred Lewis, who has urged the Legislature to tighten conflict-of-interest laws. "I'm not saying that's what happened, but that's what it looks like."
The state constitution prohibits lawmakers from benefiting "directly or indirectly" from a state contract authorized by the Legislature they serve in, but it doesn't say what happens to lawmakers who violate the provision.
The company president, Robert Vanman, called WatchGuard "squeaky clean" and said he resented any suggestion that the contractor had engaged in any "shady" dealings. The company has deals to sell patrol car video systems to at least a dozen state law enforcement agencies — and hundreds of local ones, according to company literature and state records.
If WatchGuard is an industry leader, Vanman said, it's because of its products, not because of political influence.
But WatchGuard's own Web site touted the company's politically connected shareholders in the first place. A published company profile boasts that WatchGuard, based in the Dallas suburb of Plano, is "privately funded and closely held by an influential shareholder group that includes three state representatives, a judge, and a number of distinguished entrepreneurs."
It doesn't name the politician-investors on the Web site, but Vanman did. They are Reps. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, Byron Cook, R-Corsicana and former Rep. Bob Griggs, a Dallas-area Republican. WatchGuard's vice president of operations, Dennis Pirkle, is a part-time city judge and jail magistrate, according to company literature. [Mark Godsey]
October 13, 2008
Unprecedented Number of Federal Judges under Investigation?
U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent is the first federal judge to be indicted for alleged federal sex crimes, but he's only the latest in a string of jurists to face misconduct allegations in 2008, for behavior such as frequenting a topless club or lying under oath.
Nationwide, four other federal judges are being investigated for, among other things, taking cash from lawyers, using an escort service, posting nude photos on a personal Web site and abusing power in court.
The flurry of federal disciplinary activity appears unprecedented under the modern review system, established by Congress in 1980, according to experts and official court statistics.
``As far as I know, we've never had anything like this,'' said Arthur Hellman, a federal judicial disciplinary expert and professor at the University of Pittsburgh law school.
Kent, who sat on the Galveston bench for 17 years before being transferred to Houston last year, is the only federal judge to confront an ongoing public criminal investigation.
He's been indicted but pleaded not guilty to charges he improperly touched a female court employee and attempted to force her to perform oral sex.
He faces a trial on Jan. 26 before U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of Pensacola, who was specially assigned to oversee the case.
Four other federal judges in California, Colorado and Louisiana confront various stages of judicial disciplinary review - including U.S. District Judge Thomas Porteous Jr. of New Orleans, who is being investigated for possible impeachment by the judiciary committee of the House.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
October 02, 2008
Mistrial Motion Being Considered in Trial Of Sen. Ted Stevens
The trial of Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, teetered on the verge of a mistrial or even a dismissal of the charges on Thursday because of the discovery that Justice Department prosecutors had withheld information that they were supposed to turn over to defense lawyers.
Judge Emmit G. Sullivan dismissed for the day the jurors in the trial, in its second week, and hurriedly scheduled an afternoon hearing on whether he should dismiss the seven felony counts Mr. Stevens faces.
“It’s very troubling,” said a clearly angry Judge Sullivan, who questioned whether someone in the department deliberately concealed the information. “If it wasn’t deliberate, it was gross negligence.”
The surprise development came after prosecutors late Wednesday sent to the defense team a copy of an F.B.I. report of an agent’s interview with Bill Allen, an Alaska oil services magnate. Mr. Allen, who is the prosecution’s chief witness, has been on the stand this week.
In addition to the scolding of the government by the judge, the revelation produced a heated and sometimes personal confrontation between the chief defense lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, and the chief prosecutor, Brenda Morris, outside the presence of the jury.
Mr. Stevens is charged with failing to list on Senate disclosure forms some $250,000 in gifts and services he received from Mr. Allen and his company, Veco, for renovations of the senator’s home in Girdwood, Alaska.
At the heart of the trial is the issue of whether Mr. Stevens knowingly failed to list the gifts and services. Mr. Allen has already testified that he did not send bills to Mr. Stevens because he was explicitly told not to do so by the senator’s personally designated liaison to him.
The belatedly disclosed document is the agent’s handwritten report of an interview of Mr. Allen in which Mr. Allen said he believed that Mr. Stevens would have paid the bills had they been sent to him.
Mr. Sullivan offered a theatrical protest, throwing down papers at the lectern and saying that in his 40 years of practice he had never encountered such blatant government ineptitude.
“The integrity of this process has been breached,” he asserted in asking for a dismissal. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
September 29, 2008
Prosecutor Appointed to Investigate U.S. Attorney Firings
An internal Justice Department investigation concluded Monday that political pressure drove the firings of several federal prosecutors in a 2006 purge, but said that the refusal of major players at the White House and the department to cooperate in the year-long inquiry produced significant “gaps” in its understanding of the events.
At the urging of the investigators, who said they did not have enough evidence to justify recommending criminal charges in the case, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey appointed the Acting United States Attorney in Connecticut, Nora Dannehy, to continue the inquiry and determine whether anyone should be prosecuted.
The 356-page report, prepared by the department’s inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility, provides the fullest picture to date of an episode that opened the Bush administration up to charges of politicizing the justice system. The firings of nine federal prosecutors, and the Congressional hearings they generated, ultimately led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales last September.
The investigation, which uncovered White House e-mail messages not previously made public, offered a blistering critique of Mr. Gonzales’s management of the department. It called Mr. Gonzales “remarkably unengaged” in overseeing an unprecedented personnel review, and said that he “abdicated” his administrative responsibilities, leaving those duties to his chief of staff. It said that the process for deciding which prosecutors were fired was “fundamentally flawed.”
More troubling, the investigation concluded that, despite the denials of the administration at the time of the controversy, political considerations played a part in the firings of at least four of the nine prosecutors.
The most serious case, the report said, was the firing of David Iglesias, the former United States Attorney for New Mexico, who had tangled with two of his state’s leading Republican lawmakers, Senator Pete Domenici and Representative Heather A. Wilson, over what they saw as his slow response to voter fraud and political corruption accusations against Democrats in New Mexico.
“We concluded,” the inquiry said, “that complaints from New Mexico Republican politicians and party activists to the White House and the Department about Iglesias’s handling of voter fraud and public corruption cases led to his removal.”
But in looking into the Iglesias firing and others, investigators were hampered by the refusal of the White House to turn over internal documents and to make some major figures available for interviews. Investigators interviewed some 90 people, but three administration officials who played a part in crucial phases of the firing plan — Karl Rove, the former political advisor to President Bush; Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel; and Monica M. Goodling, former Justice Department liaison to the White House — all refused to be interviewed.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]