Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday that the Justice Department plans to appeal an administrative judge’s order reversing the suspension of two prosecutors, alleged to have engaged in “reckless professional misconduct” in the botched prosecution of the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
While testifying before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice, science and related agencies, the Attorney General said he disagreed with Judge Benjamin Gutman’s April decision that the Justice Department violated its own procedures by allowing then-Professional Misconduct Review Unit Chief Kevin Ohlson to decide whether Alaskan Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Goeke and Joseph Bottini had erred by failing to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense during the trial’s discovery phase.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who has called Stevens her “political mentor,” told Holder during the hearing that Alaskans want to know “Is there any justice out there?” in the case.
Stevens was convicted in federal court in Washington, D.C., in 2008 for failing to disclose gifts on his public financial forms. At the time the longest-serving member of the Senate, the Alaska Republican lost his seat shortly after his conviction. In 2009, Holder asked the court to dismiss the charges after an internal Justice Department investigation found that prosecutors had withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense in violation of Steven’s constitutional rights.
Berg was tapped to examine the Office of Professional Responsibility’s findings in its exhaustive review of the case. The unit was formed in 2011 to handle disciplinary actions against department attorneys whom OPR has found committed intentional or reckless misconduct.
Berg argued in a memo that the entire prosecutorial team — including the “front office” of Criminal Division political appointees — contributed to the failures in the case. But Ohlson, a former long-time top aide to Holder, recommended Bottini and Goeke for 40 and 15 day suspensions without pay, respectively.
Gutman held a hearing on the matter over three days in November 2012. In his April opinion, he did not address whether Goeke and Bottini had engaged in misconduct.
The department originally had until May 10 to appeal the finding but DOJ spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said the filing deadline had been extended.