Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Maybe former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) should take up lacrosse. Because, after his case was thrown out Tuesday, he may be second only to the Duke lacrosse two years ago as the most notorious victim of prosecutorial misconduct.
Make no mistake, the specifics of each case are quite different. In the Duke situation, it became clear that the accuser made up the story and Durham County district attorney Mike Nifong just ignored the facts in a blatant politically motivated prosecution. The Duke students were innocent.
Whether that is the case with Stevens will never be known -- though more than a few people will feel that he lucked out this time (except for the not-too-small reality of losing his seat). There was a heckuva lot of smoke around Stevens, though any hope of finding an actual fire is gone due to the feds' metaphorical committing arson.
Still, Judge Emmet Sullivan's decision to appoint a special investigator to examine the actions of the federal prosecutors in the Stevens case means that the ramifications may extend well beyond Stevens.
"Who watches the watchmen?" indeed.
Laying out multiple examples of prosecutors either withholding exculpatory evidence or, arguably, witness-tampering, Sullivan launched into a whithering critique:
"In 25 years on the bench, I've never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I've seen in this case," U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said. "When the government does not meet its obligation to turn over evidence, the system falters."
Question is, where will an investigation of the prosecutors lead? "Special prosecutor" is a phrase with some significance in Washington, DC (where the federal trial was held). There's a history of such individuals, yes, finding stuff on their targets -- but not necessarily what they were originally charged to look for.
The Stevens case was run out of the Justice Department's public integrity unit. A special investigation might uncover that this wasn't an isolated case. Was such misconduct par for the course for this unit? Might previous prosecutions be open to review?
Better believe that we haven't heard the last of this.