The punishment of two line prosecutors singled out in the mishandling of the Ted Stevens case is not only grossly unfair to them but is harmful to the system of justice upon which all Americans depend, the organization representing some 5,600 assistant United States attorneys asserts in a new brief.
The suspensions imposed upon Joseph Bottini and James Goeke, the assistant U.S. Attorneys in Alaska who were on the team that convicted Stevens, the once-powerful Republican senator from the state, should be overturned, in part because others who could have or should have been cited in the collapse of the case have escaped punishment, the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys says.
In a brief dated Monday and filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board, the prosecutors’ organization says the treatment of Bottini and Goeke can be corrosive to morale within the Department of Justice. “In a democracy, these consequences can become profound, especially within government components responsible for the administration and delivery of justice,” the brief says.
The brief, while scathing in tone, seems to contain no startling disclosures. But it does revive memories of one of the saddest chapters in DOJ history. Stevens was convicted in 2008 and lost his seat in the election that year. But Attorney General Eric Holder, conceding that serious mistakes were made concerning evidence disclosure, later moved to dismiss the charges. Stevens, his career in ruins, died in a plane crash in 2010.
Recalling the original suspensions pronounced against Bottini and Goeke — 45 days and 10 days, respectively — the brief notes that no punishment was proposed against any other attorneys in the Stevens prosecution “despite their involvement in distinctive ways that contributed to the major developments that up-ended the case.”
Bottini and Goeke were cited for “reckless misconduct” by the DOJ for the failure to hand over to the Stevens defense team materials that might have helped the defense’s case (see Main Justice’s report) and might even have averted the senator’s conviction on charges of failing to disclose gifts he had received — in this case, work done on the senator’s Alaska cabin under an arrangement with Bill Allen, an oilfield company tycoon and former friend of Stevens who testified against him.
Bottini and Goeke were undone because they not only had to prepare for a high-profile trial but had to cope with “a patch-work, dysfunctional situation created, in part, by their supervisors,” a situation that only worsened as the trial went on, the brief contends.
The Stevens episode produced withering criticism of the DOJ from the trial judge, Emmet G. Sullivan of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and from Henry F. Schuelke III, a special investigator who compiled a 500 plus-page report on the affair. It even led to the suicide of one prosecutor involved in the case.
And it cast Bill Allen, the “star” prosecution witness, in an especially unflattering light. Allen was sentenced to three years in prison and fined $750,000 for his part in the sprawling case, which seeped into Alaska state politics as well as Washington. It was disclosed along the way that Allen apparently had a weakness for under-age girls — a fact that just might have cast doubt on his character and credibility, had it been known early on.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has expressed doubts about the DOJ’s explanati0ns for not going after Allen on morals charges. Whatever the reasons, there are ample reasons for DOJ leaders to want the Stevens case to recede into the past, as quietly as possible.